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Open Features: Teaching The Blind To Dance

"When I was challenged to teach a blind singer to dance I had no idea I was to be the learner,'' says Ellie Braun-Haley.

To read more of Ellie's inspiring stories please type her name in the search box on this page.

I was a dance teacher for a local college and had been learning a series of new dances to introduce into the communities in the area. My partner and I decided it would be fun to practice to a live band at a lounge. We didn't know we'd been the topic of interest where the band was concerned until they approached us during one of their breaks. Admiring our footwork, they asked if we could spend time with the three female singers in the group and teach them some of our steps. It was felt the steps would enhance their singing routines. Thinking it would be a fun morning and give us more practice we agreed to meet at their motel the following day.

My partner was interested in working with two of the singers and suggested that I work with the third singer, Gail. The challenge for me would be to accurately describe each move for Gail. She had the greater challenge, to process, interpret and simulate. Being blind, Gail had never seen us dance but she exuded confidence. She also trusted her fellow singers that the steps would be fun and a great addition to their act.

I went from feeling sympathy for Gail to admiring her. She was able to accomplish all that her sighted colleagues had in the same amount of time. She was an amazing woman and the session with Gail taught me more than I realized.

A few weeks later, while I was teaching a group of adults a country western Line Dance I noticed that most of them spent a lot of time looking at my feet, or the feet of someone in front of them. I wanted them to feel confident on the dance floor but I could see that they were relying too heavily on others. A memory of Gail came to mind and as I thought of her I realized she had learned so quickly because she did not use her eyes. The message went from her brain straight to her muscles.

I told the group about Gail and suggested we try something new; to pretend we couldn’t see. We went over the steps a few times and I matched each combination of moves with a trigger word or phrase. Then we focused on a spot on the wall, never looking down and went through the dance again using only the trigger words to remind our brains of what we wished our feet to do. Invariably and with unbelievable consistency the students learned the dance quicker than usual.

I never saw Gail again yet her dance lessons taught me something I would use again and again over the years. The lesson eventually helped hundreds of students to learn better and to thereby feel more confidence.

Without Gail I doubt that I would have discovered a new method for teaching dance. Her attitude showed me that we should not be afraid of the things we can not see and do not know. Gail didn’t see herself as courageous, learning to dance in spite of blindness, no instead she accepted new challenges as an opportunity to taste more life. Gail laughed at her mistakes. She lived in the moment.

***

Ellie says she has learned that the sidewalks of life may be filled with breaks and cracks but the scenery enroute is worth the walk. She has had numerous short stories published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Heartwarmers of Spirit, Emerging Courageou, Concious Women and many other publications. Ellie is a prairie girl born and raised in Alberta.

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