When Partner Dance is Physical Therapy: Addressing Disabilities in the Classroom

Partner dance can be used as an alternative to physical therapy.  This article addresses common issues people with disabilities encounter in classroom and dance settings.  In order to raise awareness to the issues a group of people encounter, it is important to talk with a person within that group.   Today we will introduce an activist that is fighting for equal rights for people with disabilities.  Her background is in dancing and teaching.  After her accident, she used partner dance as her own form of physical therapy.

Brittany King Before the Stroke

Brittany King is a dancer, entrepreneur, mother, and disabilities activist.  She grew up taking dance classes through the Chicago Park District and Chicago Ballet Arts.  In her freshmen year of high school, she tried out for the dance team but didn’t make the try outs.  Brittany kept working hard, and in her sophomore year she made it!  Brittany continued her passion for dancing into college, where she enrolled in the Early Childhood Education program at Southern Illinois University.

Unfortunately, her goals were unexpectedly put on on hold in the Fall of her sophomore year when Brittany had a stroke in the middle of her campus.  She went back to Chicago and was at the former Rehab Institute of Chicago.  Brittany recalls this being a very depressing time for her.  The left side of her body was paralyzed.  She had to re-learn how to walk and talk properly.  But, she had a past issue that came up during her recovery.  She never liked traditional exercise, and she still didn’t!  Traditional physical rehab didn’t interest her.  She viewed dancing as a form of exercise, but her team always tried to measure her success and recovery through actions like how long she could run.

Brittany King During Recovery:  Dancing as Physical Therapy

While going through traditional outpatient therapy, she still lacked of interest.  Instead, she decided to use dancing as physical therapy by joining a ballroom dance studio.  She viewed dancing, and especially partner dancing, as a form of physical therapy.  She used to do solo dancing, so partner dancing was a completely different challenge for her.

“Before that, it was just me dancing with my body.  Then I had to learn how to be a follow and let someone lead me.”

Partner dancing helped her work on her balance, re-learn how her body moved, and learn how to adjust her body when she felt the shift of her partner.  “That was therapy in itself…  The excitement of dancing was new to me.  [It was] more of a challenge, and I preferred to be challenged in therapy.  Running on a treadmill, I mean yes you can challenge yourself to run further, but I rather challenge myself and stretch my body.”  

All throughout this time she was working on her mental, emotional, and professional development.  She signed up to take classes at Truman College.  She also attended a support group at Access Living, Empowered Fe Fe’s.  This all-women’s group offers support for women with disabilities.  Throughout the years, Brittany has gained organizing skills and moved up in their leadership.  Although Brittany still has limited mobility in the left side of her body (no active use of her left elbow, wrist, ankle, and toes), that has not stopped Brittany from reaching her goals and advocating for her community.  She achieved her associate’s degree in early childhood education, earned her teaching certificate, goes down to Springfield, Illinois to advocate for her community, and she is in the middle tweaking an app she has created.

Addressing disabilities within the classroom and dance settings:

“I have hope and I’m inspired by these conversations.  It’s been a long time coming.”  


Ciera:  Tell us what your dance journey looked like before your accident and afterwards.  What are some challenges that others may not be aware of?

Brittany “Now being on the dance floor (especially by myself), anything could happen.  My muscles could fatigue and I could fall, and before that wasn’t an issue because I was strong.  My body was trained for dancing because of the years of dancing.  Well now I feel like I’m re-teaching my body what it’s already been doing… A lot of times I feel like I don’t want to mentally trust in my left leg when I lean over and do this move, but 9 times out of 10 its trustworthy… Before I wasn’t nervous when I danced.  Now I’m nervous my body can fail.

C:  Was there any resistance in the dancing community or teaching community that you have faced?

Brittany refers to her years of work with children, but having to deal with the difficulties of being hired in a daycare and teaching setting “My daughter Lauren is so comfortable and natural and knows me in an intimidate way of how I manage her and care for her.  I don’t feel like that would be a go in a classroom with other children just because I need more accommodations then the average person. “

C:  What are some accommodations that you are probably going to run into if you were to work in a setting like that?

B“I know for a fact I can’t tie up a shoe or zip up coats and so it’s things like that that I think about…. It’s a standard of care, so I understand.”

C:  What are some factors teachers need to be aware of when working with disabilities?

B“We all have our different ways of learning things and our different learning styles, so being mindful of that.  So if Tommy needs to rub on the bear while you’re singing the bear song or whatever you’re doing, then you have to allow that space for the child to do so.  Be aware there’s not only one way to do things and let kids maneuver themselves and figure it out because they are smart…  Leave room for that.”    

C:  How could teachers create a mixed abilities/more accessible classroom?

B“Collaborate.  Collaborate with institutions that already exist like Access Living or other field centers for independent living in Chicago.  There are a lot of people just sitting on degrees of expertise [but] no one is really acknowledging them or allowing them to be presented and represented.” 

C:  What would you tell children with disabilities who want to dance?

B“It’s more than O.K. to take a break and visualize the technique first.  Just keep trying and practicing.”  

C:  Can you give the audience a short explanation of what your app is about and who it’s for?

B“My app is a tool for people with disabilities and their friends and their family created by a person with a disability.”  

C:  Are there any last messages you would like the audience to know?

B“Include people with disabilities at the table that prefer to work on rules and policies.  Find more people who are like me who are disabled and can do those types of things…..You don’t know things are a problem until they are a problem and it’s too late.”  








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