Breaking with convention: establishing an integrated learning framework
The work that we deliver and cover in this guide has evolved over the past decades and has been influenced by the contribution that workshop participants have provided in response to the ideas presented. There has always been an acknowledgement of the ‘body’ of work that has evolved as being the product of the learning experiences that all have shared, participant with participant, individual and group, with workshop leaders as facilitators witnesses of the discoveries made, and through the dialogues that ensue in the process. In workshops involving sighted and visually impaired participants there is often an assumption that the sighted participants will be supporting the visually impaired, in line with the conventional ‘sighted guide’ role. Another assumption is that the sighted participant will be busy helping the visually impaired partner to understand the instructions for the task at hand. In Touchdown Dance workshops we work in pairs and groups in which the visually impaired participant will also guide the sighted, so that the roles are interchangeable and both learn to trust the other’s strengths and to acknowledge each other’s limitations. The partnering work involves a step by step accumulative learning process and frequent role changes as well as changing partners.
As workshop leaders we remain vigilant and take a common sense attitude to the potential risk of injury to participants. This requires giving enough time for each exploration so that we don’t rush the participants through an exercise in order to fill the day. It requires vigilance in pair work for example, when there are two people of very different sizes or when the combination of difficulties provides too much of a challenge in the learning stages, for each person. It also requires that sighted participants use their vision to support the safety of the room, just as a blind participant may support the room to orient more to the use of the feet on the ground, or to tactile stimuli. In all cases when working in this way with groups of people with different strengths, it is important to remember there are as many ways of doing one thing as there are people in the room, and that the methods are a framework for facilitation. The work for the facilitator is then to provide a starting point, and to build upon that in a general way which enables some to go slower than others but for all to feel they are progressing.
The size of the space in which we work is very important, we usually estimate a good 3-4 square meters per person where possible, for the floor based work. This gives ample space to move, explore and engage in the work, as well as to sense others around us. The space should have a clean wooden floor, good daylight or non-fluorescent lighting where possible and heating to an ambient temperature – if it is too cold this is a health hazard, and if too warm we can get dehydrated and too hot. Trip hazards and other hazards must be removed or taped over and the floor area needs to be kept clear of personal affects.
Starting – arrival and beginning
If people are arriving at a familiar space then orientation is less necessary. However we like to start the meeting with orientation to the space for those who are unfamiliar and for those who cannot see. This is a good way to start also if people are familiar as they may not get the opportunity to orient to the room through their senses in the way we recommend. The special senses (touch, taste, smell, hearing, sight) and the sense of movement (kinesthesia) are our gateways to the environment, bringing the environment to our attention and bring us into relationship with the surrounding world. In these explorations we become aware of how our state of inner being is determined by our sense of comfort, our sense of interaction and belonging in the world around us. This approach involves the senses, our perceptive sense of our moving body (also referred to as proprioception) and how movement, touch, seeing and hearing in particular, provide layers of information that we piece together, consider, understand and learn from.
Time is ‘of the essence’ to the nature of the learning experience. We invest in ‘body time’ - the time it takes for the body to assimilate information and integrate it into a ‘repertoire’, which varies for each of us. We take time, a lot of time if necessary, particularly in the early stages of the work with a group, bearing ‘in mind’ that many participants may not have had the opportunity to participate so fully in a movement workshop, and that they need care, and attention to assimilate what they have achieved in their own time.
Regular breaks or natural pauses for water or discussion are recommended as time to integrate the information taken into the body and to establish a sense of collaboration and inclusion.