Saturday, March 26, 2011

Building Confidence & Independence!

So much has been happening in my class lately!

Let me start with D.

D, who began the session as my shy wall flower, is now part of my “Front Row Crew”

Let me tell you about my Front Row Crew.

If a student wants to be in the Front fow, he or she is more than welcome. But there are rules.

The student cannot be “silly.” Of course, they do not have to move perfectly, or even correctly. But they must attend to me, attempt to follow my moves, and contribute to the class. The other students will be watching them, so they must set an example to the others if they are going to be in the front.

Some of these guys will do anything for a laugh. They might “fall” on the floor, purposely go in the wrong direction or bump into me and other participants, lift their shirts… the list goes on.

Now, D has never been silly. But he has been shy, and has found the moves challenging. Despite those challenges, he never got frustrated. Ever. But he just wouldn’t take that many chances in the beginning. He would stay close to his mom, who also participated in the class for her own workout. She would stop from time to time when he was not moving the right way, and adjust him or redirect a move.

Week after week, I noticed 2 things about D:

First, I noticed how much more he was doing. His eyes never left me. He watched every movement, and did a little more with each week.

And then, I noticed how much closer to the front he would move. And that he would be smiling.

D’s smile rocks. He would greet me before each class with his beautiful brown eyes shining, and a little smile on his lips. He has the type of smile that is more in his eyes than on his lips. His eyes smile the whole class now. He is one of my most dedicated students.

D has also been noticing some of the more subtle steps I have been adding to the choreography – a slight move of the hand or arm. A quick ball change. While in the beginning he was only aware of the bigger movement – arms swinging, general direction changes – he now notices those smaller things. He also has been continuing the choreography if I turn around, or stop to watch the students (which is very difficult for him and some of the other students since they are so used to following someone. Doing things independently is always the goal of individuals with autism. And always the biggest challenge). I have seen, since I started in the fall, that D is SO much more aware of his body and where it is in the space around him.

He is discovering how his legs and arms move. How his feet and hands move.

D is DANCING for the first time in his life.

And man, with those smiling eyes and subtle steps, he is a ROCKSTAR!

And then there is C.

Let me start off by saying how much I dig C. C is extremely social and engaging. A complete charmer. He will always chat me up during the break. I love talking with C. I feel like I am at a party when we talk, and I am getting to chat with the funniest guy in the room.

However, he will do anything for a laugh, and thrives on attention. During class, he tends to do silly things – lift his shirt, jump up, try to bump into me, roll on the floor… the list went on. When we do our Shakira Africa song, and I am getting the class to press their hands into their hearts, and he is standing there moving his pecs up and down with his hands, enough is enough!!!!

C decided he wanted to start coming to the front row of my class. He just started inching his way up there a few weeks ago (the moms joke that I am a class celebrity that all the students want to get near… LOL). I always let C know what he needs to do to stay there.

Last week, after 2 warnings, he was sent to the back of the room for the rest of the class because of his behaviors. He sulked, but he realized I meant business.

This week, he arrived early, and looked at me guiltily as he walked in. I am not one to hold grudges, but I am one to read a good riot act to certain individuals. this morning was his lucky day. Before the class began, I reminded him of what he needed to do to stay in the front row with me, and told him he gets one chance. One. and then he is sitting for the rest of the class. He nodded, and promised me he would behave.

And he did. He worked so hard to show me how hard he was trying to be worthy of the front row. And he really was! His smile and his moves were a great addition to the Front Row Crew.I made sure to praise him and give him MORE attention for being a contributing member of the class.

These are the types of challenges I have been facing in the class for the most part. Communicating to these guys what the expectations are, getting them to follow what I am doing while having them find their OWN rhythm in the process.

After all, they do not need to move the way I move. They need to move the way THEY move.

In order to do this, it has been my goal from day 1 to NOT have to be there in the front of the class, leading them. I want to be able to move around the room, to turn to face them, to stop and watch them show me what they can do.

This week, I was able to turn and walk around through much of the class. The students know the choreography so well now, that they know that there are no turns or walks in it. They have realized, in their own, that if I am turning, or walking around – it is not part of the choreography – it is a chance to let them do these moves on their own. It took 6 months to get here, but so what! This is a HUGE step for all of us.

It is something that most would take for granted, but not when working with individuals with special needs.

Things that would not even be a blip on anyone's radar becomes an entire universe when you work with these guys.

This is what makes this the hardest and most wonderful job in the whole world.

X has been pretty much my assistant through this whole process. I always talk about X, but I can't help it. This young man has rhythm like you wouldn’t believe. He never misses a step. He gets the choreography immediately, and laughs loudly when I mess up.

This morning, when a merengue came on, I went to adjust the volume, and could not get to the front in time before the music started. He led the class through the whole beginning of the routine! I decided to hang back and just let him do it. Why not? His mom and I laughed and watched as he did a perfect job with the relatively newer choreography.

During the water break, his mom shared with me that he and B have been leading the teen dances in some of their favorite songs from Zumba. Coordinating and discussing it on their own, and LEADING a big group!!!

Remember - these things are universes, not blips!!!!!!!!

Halfway through the class, “Dynamite” came on. I decided to sit down and watch them do all the choreography for me. This is their favorite song, and they just love the routine. B, who always says she wants to be on So You Think You Can Dance, looked like a total super star. She was SO proud to be doing this routine in the front row, on her own. My students were proudly performing for me. Showing me how well they can do this on their own. I would have cried if I wasn’t so busy smiling.

I have to admit - sitting down during a Zumba class was nice. I was tempted to stay patrked there for the rest of the hour. But siiighhhhh. I got up. all creaky kneed and tight jointed (did I mention I'm also training for my first half marathon? But... That's for my other blog!)

I started something new with the group last week. A Quebradita in a circle. As part of the song, I give each student an opportunity to get into the middle of the circle and lead a move for the rest of us. This has been their most favorite thing to do. I do not think this would have been as successful in the beginning. But now that the students “get” the format, and get what it means to dance and be a part of the group, this has been flawless.

Yes, my sillier participants have been banging out moves that I call “the Russian wedding move” (you know the move – practically sitting on the floor, kicking up and down. Good for the quads. and a piece of cake if you are Lou Ferrigno. Or L, who rocks those moves like nobody’s business!), or high plyo leaps - with heel clicks in the air (The "Dorothy"). Ouch.

But.... this is THEIR moment to shine. Their opportunity to express themelves on their own, with no direction from me.

This is harder for them then it seems (Universe).

But, as usual, they all have stepped up to the plate. This Quebradita, i feel, truly unifies us as a group, and has automatically become one of my favorite things to do in the class.

I hope to give these guys more opportunities to lead, and play more “games” with them that allow them to do this on a regular basis.

This journey has been amazing. And it has only begun.

I was asked to start a new Special Needs Zumba class on a weeknight!

I am going to get to know a whole new group of individuals, and all the challenges and delightful discoveries that come with them.

As a result, this blog is going to be updated on a more regular basis, since I am going to need to share and vent as I experience the amazing process that is teaching the special needs population Zumba!!!!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

My students are SUPER!!!

Between holidays, inclement weather, my own conferences for work, etc, the class has not been as consistent as I would like.

However, the students never miss a beat. They remember every song, and every step. They keep greeting me early every Saturday morning with so much enthusiasm, it’s hard to stay tired for too long…

So, what has 2011 brought to us so far…

Coming back after new years was smooth and quiet. The students were happy to be back.

The students were eager to get back to Zumba. And of course, it wouldn’t be our class without something major going on to lead us all to distraction, and be forced to work through it to stay focused on the music and our steps…

One particularly freezing Saturday, with the temperature outside in the single digits, the dojo didn’t receive their oil delivery. The studio was actually colder inside than it was outside.

That was the day I taught most of the class in my hat and gloves. That was a tough day for the students to get motivated and stay motivated, but… they did it! Eventually we all warmed up a bit. That was not a sweaty class to say the least.

The following Saturday, the dojo had guys in to test and fix the fire alarm. All through the class. If anyone is unfamiliar with people on the autism spectrum and loud, screeching noises with flashing lights, let me sum it up for you: a recipe for disaster. Again, after a few held their fingers in their ears and voiced their protests, I was able to get them back on track with a favorite song.

It is becoming the running joke in our class between myself and the moms… what is in store for us THIS week?

This morning, surprisingly – the class went off without a hitch. Frankly, I was shocked. And possibly a bit disappointed.

Last night, at the teen dance, I was told that X. not only requested that Fuego be played (which he happened to have on his iPod – he has found all of his favorite Latin songs and carries them with him now – thanks to Zumba!), but he got up and taught all the other teens the choreography that we do in class. The moms that were there were all raving at how amazing he did. I was not surprised. X. has a gift for being right on the beat. His rhythm is flawless. He gets every move – every step, every arm movement, everything. And he loves it enough to share with everyone.

Go X!!!

And then there is D…. My new superstar.

D has been coming with his mom, always doing his thing in the back. Smiling, and moving – loving every minute of it, but I could not get him to venture far enough away from his mom to get closer to the front of the room. His mom tells me that he looks forward to Zumba all week. His smile says it all.

However, last week, and this morning, something completely transformed in D.
He has moved to the front row!

That, to me, is huge.

Seeing him move, his face, his smile all change from simple enjoyment to pride is something hard to measure. It has to be seen.

D. is PROUD of himself.

D. is developing confidence, knowing that he is not just moving – but moving correctly.

After each song, he makes eye contact with me, and smiles when I praise him. He is trying new steps. He loves the challenge. I remember when walking side to side was challenging. He could not do a basic salsa step or a reggaeton. Now, he steps side. He steps front. He grapevines. He jumps. He does V steps. He cha chas. He used to do a step AFTER I did it, and now he does it at the same time. These are all really major accomplishments!!!

His favorite song is “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz. He rocks it out like no one’s business.

Unfortunately, these guys have ANOTHER 2 week break until our next class. At least that means I can hold onto my music for a while before I feel the need to switch it up.

My goal for March is to put on a song once a week and let one student teach the class for that song. Since each student has “their” song that they have connected with, I thought that would be a great way to let them have it, own it, and exude the joy and confidence that their song has given them.

Stay tuned!!!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Challenges of Autism

I hope you all had an amazing holiday! My class has a 2 week break, and I finally have some time to sit down and update my blog.

This week, my blog post will be a little different, because something unfortunately occurred during the last class before the break that I cannot stop thinking about.

I have not discussed any behavior problem during the class. This is not because I intentionally left this out – it is simply because there have not been any, thankfully.

students are all in their teens, and although they are not considered “high functioning” in terms of language ability, they have all been involved in respite programs and group activities long enough to know the behavioral expectations. This has been a blessing for me. I have been able to conduct the class for the most part without any SNAFUs, and the students have been able to get the most out of the class as a result.

I do not shy away from behavior problems – I deal with all types of behavior for a living – but if there are too many behavior issues, it does take away from the class. I would have to stop and address the issues rather than teaching the class. These types of interruptions would be detrimental to the class.

I have tons of strategies in my arsenal to pull out, and if I encounter consistent behavior issues with a particular student, I can develop a plan or a strategy that I would implement each week to assist the student to give him or her the supports he or she needed to be successful. This is always in the back of my head.
I also have the parents there at the class. This is an important piece. I rely on them for assistance at times – especially if there are behavior issues that I am not able to handle.

Before I discuss the last week incident, I want to backtrack to the week before, since I believe it did help to prepare my class for any out of the ordinary events.

The class is held at a Dojo, and there are lots of things on the walls – framed pictures, certificates, masks, and long wooden sticks.

The coordinator brings in the stereo every week, and places it against the wall. The second to last week before the break, while I was blasting one of our favorite songs, a picture was vibrated right off the wall.

This has happened before, but this particular time, the glass on the frame shattered everywhere!!!

The coordinator and the moms sprang into action to clean up all the glass. I could not stop the class to help, so all I could do was direct the students away from the glass, and keep telling them to look at me and to not stop. It was distracting, but the music kept playing, and they are all so used to the choreography that it helped keep things consistent even with the chaos going on around them.

I was grateful that the students stayed with me, pulled it together, and got right back on track with the steps… and the moms are just awesome – some of them were there for their own workout and they interrupted it to make sure the area was clean and that I would not have to stop.

I thought how great it was that the students were able to handle the commotion, not knowing what would occur the following week.

So… the last week before the break started well. I gave the students their Christmas gifts – their very own Zumba t-shirts!

I started the class – this time the coordinator put the stereo in a new place – not near the wall so the vibrating would not make the pictures fall, and we began.

I have everything down to a science now. At the 30 minute mark, I break for water. I remind X that NOW is the time to go to the bathroom – not during the class when I need him the most.

I sometimes use the break time to chat quickly with the students, tell them they are doing a great job, and joke around with them.

I see C with his mom. During the first portion of the class, I noticed C was not as into the class as usual. C is very large – about 250 lbs, and very tall. I have known him since he was 12 - he is now 16. He is not a big fan of moving, but has been a trooper. His mom takes the class alongside him.

I see that C is face to face with his mom, looking a little agitated. I go over to say hi to him. Mom informs me that he is not having a good morning. I tell C that it is OK, and he is doing a great job. He tells me “Sorry,” and says to his mom, “I don’t UNDERSTAND!” I tell C it is ok again. Again, he tells me, “Sorry.” I tell C it is OK – he does not need to be sorry. He apologizes again. I say – “No, C – don’t say sorry!” His mom looks at me, nervously, and tells me “No – let him say sorry to you….” He says sorry again, and I say “OK.” But at this point, C is clearly escalating – working himself up. I have not seen him like this yet, and am not sure how to handle it. I tell C that we are about to start up again, and ask him if he wants to help me turn on the stereo. He says “No”.

I know when an individual with autism is agitated, the worst thing to do is bombard him or her with language. So, I stopped talking to C, stopped asking him questions, or anything else. Instead, I announce to the class – “I am going to count to 10, and then we are going to be ready to start the class again,”

My intention was for C to hear this, and perhaps pull it together to follow the routine rather than continue to escalate. This could go in any direction – my hope was – it was going to go in the direction **I** wanted it to go in.

Unfortunately, it did not.

C began screaming and pushing his mother. Then he picked up the wooden rods displayed on the wall, and began slamming them against the walls, the furniture, and attempting to hit his mom or anyone in his way.

This is when the sensei and the coordinator – both black belts – came over to him to redirect him. He could not be stopped right away. He almost took the rod to the stereo – thank God he didn’t – that would have been the end of the class for sure!

A mom suggested that I just start. I quickly agreed, but the other students were terrified. They were off to the side, watching. I came to them, and told them we are going to start. I positioned them close to me, away from C. I had to put my arm around L. He was so scared, that he clung to me and kept stopping. I promised him he would be OK.

I discovered at that moment how much my other students trusted me. It was so endearing. They just looked at me, knowing I would make this OK and bring them back to the place they should be.

The music started, and just like the week before with the broken glass, the students – despite being distracted by the tantrum going on behind them, were able to focus again on me. They needed prompting to look at ME, to not stop, and to keep going. Eventually, the music and the steps took over, and there was consistency once again within the chaos. I had them back on track. They knew what was happening behind them – but they also knew what was happening in front of them, and they were able to shift their focus back onto the class.

And that is when I saw C begin to calm down. The screaming quieted down. His flailing stopped. He did not grab at any items. His mom, with tears in her eyes, was following the choreography. C came back over next to her, and started following the choreography again. At first, he would stop, scream, and stamp, but then he saw the class was continuing. Little by little, he returned to the structure of the class. It was consistent and familiar to him, and gave him an avenue to calm himself down. I did not say anything to C at first. I was concerned that any attention directed to him – any words – even praise – would set him off again. About ten minutes in, I shot some praise his way. He was fine with it.

By the end of the class, all the students were happy and calm. C was remorseful, and kept coming up to me to say he was sorry that he hurt his mom. His mom left the class crying. I made her promise to return after the break. I did not want this to get in the way of C and his progress in the class.

The moms told her they have ALL been there, and no one is judging him or her for what happened. This is autism. This is what happens. But I worry that she and C might not come back. She was so upset by his outburst.

I love my class. I want everyone there to know they are allowed to be themselves, and this class is a safe space for all the students – and their parents.

Sometimes we have bad days.

I wish everyone a happy New Year! Only good things for all of us in 2011!!!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Their Moment to SHINE!!!!!!

It’s been a few weeks. Between Thanksgiving, work, my family, and getting ready for the holidays, I haven’t had as much time as I would like to update this blog. However, there has been so much going on in this class, this post might be a little longer than the rest to catch everyone up…

There was one week when X could not come to class. He and L are like frik and frak, so I was wondering how L would be with X not being there. L, who is hearing impaired, looks to X for encouragement, praise, and sometimes to be bossed around a little in class. Because of that, L tends to not always be that assertive or vocal in class. He lets X be that person, but L is certainly the jokester. He likes to exaggerate the moves to get a laugh, and will even perform prat falls to get noticed, although I put a stop to that right away (the behaviorist in me always takes over!)

The day that X was not there, L must have realized that someone had to step up to the plate and be that vocal, assertive person in the class. He deduced right away that that person must be him. And BOY did he step up to the plate. I never saw L so assertive. With his minimal language, he lavished praise on the other students. He pointed to the other kids to show them what to do. He hooted and hollered the way X typically does. He stood right next to me the way X does, and stayed right on the beat. I found it amazing that he realized that someone needed to fill that role with X not being there!

The following week, X was back. And L went back to his typical role of clown, and looking up to X as his support. It was so nice to get a deeper glimpse into the dynamics between them. The unspoken things I get to experience in this class is just magical. These are the things that are so easy to miss when we are not paying attention. And I get the privilege of seeing these small, little exchanges on a weekly basis with these guys!

As I continue to get to know my students on a personal basis, I get to find out what makes them tick. D is my superstar. He hangs in the back, and it took a while for him to really get what is expected of him in class. While always well behaved, he had a little more difficulty following directions and imitating the steps. With each week, he became more and more focused, and really began to blossom in class. The joy on his face during class is a sight to see. You just can’t look at him without smiling. His mom has begun taking the class with him to get her own workout. After class, we were talking about how much progress he has made in class. He does not have a great deal of language, but she told me that he asked for 2 things for Christmas – a Nintendo DS, and a Zumba DVD! She told me he looks forward to this class all week! I love the twinkle in his eye when I praise him, and when I talk to him about Zumba. This is a population where interests tend to be limited. The fact that a whole new interest has been incorporated into his life is such an amazing thing. Go D!!!!!

And now for the highlight of my week…. I had the opportunity to show off my students and watch them SHINE. Tonight, during their monthly dance, where typical teenagers join them for socialization as well as other special needs teens, I was invited to demonstrate some of the songs from class. When I walked in, my students, who were dancing with their friends and having a great time, were so excited to see me. It was nice to see them in a different place!
I asked X and B (my only girl in the class) to come up and help me lead since they know the songs so well. They were very excited to help me lead the group!

When the music came on, all of my students cheered – they were so happy to hear that music!!!!

B and X were right on point. It was so nice to have them there next to me, doing the choreography. It felt like my own little Zumba crew! X, as usual, became animated while we taught, calling out cues, hooting and hollering. D, as usual, in the back, was over the moon. He leapt, he laughed. He was THRILLED that we were doing Zumba at his dance. After a few songs, for the first time, I took the chance, and brought D to the front to help lead one of his favorite songs. He was SO happy, that at first it was hard to get him to actually follow the choreography – he kept jumping and laughing. But after pulling him next to me a few times, he started to do the moves with me. He rocked it!

C, another one of my guys who likes to hide in the back, really showed everyone around him how he can move. He did a great job!

After the demo, the kids all hung out and mingled. I saw B talking to 2 teenage girls (both peer mentors). I told the girls that B is one of my best dancers. The girls told B how amazing they thought she was. I loved that B had an opportunity to show off her skills. She is an amazing young lady!
Tonight really meant a lot to me – because after all the hard work my guys have put into learning all the choreography, they had the opportunity to show off what they knew to their peer mentors. They had the chance to lead them and show them what to do, instead of the other way around. Next week, I get to do this at their monthly basketball game!

I can’t think of a better way to end 2010.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Building Leaders...

Two weeks ago, I had to bring my 3 year old to class since my husband was away. He is very well behaved and I knew he would be fine. Towards the end of the class, he needed me to do something. I was in the middle of a song, and didn't know what to do. I now not only have my students, but the parents have all decided to join the class, and it has gotten quite large. I wondered how I was going to be able to get something for my son, and keep the momentum of the class.

I took a chance. I asked X to keep the class going.

And he did!

I returned without anyone missing a beat.

I officially have a helper in my Zumba class.

Here's the funny thing about X. He is SO shy. Before the class starts, he will hardly give me a hello. He paces around and will not talk to me. I do not take it personally - this is just how he is.

But when the music comes on and the class starts, something kicks in. He is so animated. Loud. He laughs. He calls out to the class - either giving praise or telling someone they are going the wrong way. He calls out my cues (even though I use nonverbal cueing for the most part). And he is always, ALWAYS on the right step. Always right on beat. And always right next to me when I'm teaching.

Zumba has brought out the leader in X.

Last Saturday, I needed him again. There is a new student in the class who is learning the ropes. At one point I had to walk over to him a few times to help him out. Again - I had X take over while I did so. And again, he had my back. Right on cue, he had the class - including the parents - following along until I could come back to the front....

What is great is, I am able to move away from the front of the class a bit - which is the goal of every Zumba instructor. It is not about me - it is about them - and I want to get away from being front and center so they get a chance to watch themselves shine. The problem is - they follow me so closely, if I were to turn to face them, or walk to the back of the room, they would follow me.

Again, this is where I not only have come to depend on X, but my young lady, B. These 2 are always right up front with me and are my strongest students. I have been able to point to them, and the other students are getting that they can watch them, which has given me more freedom to turn to face them, walk around a bit, and interact a bit more with the students during the class....

During certain songs, the students know the choreography SO well, that they won't follow me anymore if I deviate a little bit - which also has been great. This is when I can get them used to the fact that I WILL be moving around a little... turning to face them... doing other things that they do not necessarily have to do. This, in a nutshell, is addressing flexibility. Individuals with autism have difficulty with change, and tend to not be so flexible. I am beginning to build more and more changes and opportunities to be flexible during the class, and again, they have been stepping up to each challenge so gracefully.

We also have been having our amazing moments - where everyone is on the same step, not watching me anymore, but just getting lost in the music, lost in the choreography, and rocking it out. This is when you can literally feel the energy crackling through the room. During one song, I could tell even the parents felt it, and were so moved by the experience.

We have been having our funny moments - where I forget a step, or make a mistake, and X and B laugh at me. Where B, who does not know any Spanish, attempts to sing along to a Quebradita. Where our new student all of a sudden breaks out some disco moves.

There are the touching moments... Where D, who jumped and flapped the first few classes, follows along to every step, and then beams when I come up to him after class and tell him how AWESOME he was. Where B, who wants to be on So You Think You Can Dance, gets a step she was working on and squeals out happily.

And the rewarding moments, where the moms come up to me, sweating and fanning themselves asking me' "And this is your toned DOWN class???"

Heh Heh.....

= P

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Change is Good!

Since Halloween was last weekend, I decided to incorporate some Halloween songs into our playlist.

The first song that came on was Monster Mash. The song starts out a little creepy. Everyone was fine with it except for X. He put his fingers over his ears, and walked to the back of the room. I assured him it would be fun - not scary - and it was special for Halloween.

He got through it quickly, and wound up enjoying the song. When it was done he commented that things change sometimes. At 19 years old, he has been exposed to many changes, and I am sure he has been taught ways to handle it. He really stepped up the plate at Zumba using those skills to get through his anxiety and continue to enjoy the class.... I was so proud of him!

L continues to watch X during the class. His mom expressed concern about this, feeling he should be watching me, not X. I explained that L has to follow adult direction all the time. If he has the opportunity to follow a peer, I think that is a great thing and we should encourage that. L's mom agreed, and said she will stop stressing over it during class.

D has been awesome. He is nonverbal, and since I have known him as a little boy, I see how far he has come. He was so self directed when he was little. It was hard for him to imitate, follow direction, or do things that did not involve his interests (mostly jumping and flapping). Now, D picks a spot when told to do so, and will follow all types of steps - including salsa, stepping back, and using his arms. He moves side to side, and always keeps up with the class. He has come so far, and it is so wonderful seeing his skills blosson during class.

B, the only girl in the class, went from a quiet, shy young woman to a beaming, laughing ray of sunshine in the class. I asked her mom if she had a dance background - she loves it so much and is so good at it! Her mom said she watches Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance. She loves anything dance related and wants to be on one of those shows someday. Her mom said doing Zumba has been so wonderful for her because she gets to dance every week!

I have started to hold off some of my cues to see if the students are remmembering what steps come next. They are! Especially X and B. They are my strongest students, and I am really seeing some nice opportunites to let them lead a little. My goal is to eventually let them be the spotlight in front of the class!

Something interesting has begun in my class. The moms want to join in! I told them they might not get the best workout, since I make the class a bit slower paced than my standard Zumba class. But they really wanted to join - they see how fun it is and want to be a part of it.

The moms were all sweaty during the class! After the class, they said they worked really hard and it was a great workout.

Which made me realize something else: I am not scaling back the class as much as I thought. I am making these kids WORK! I am making them move fast. I am making them challenge themselves. And they are doing it!

The kids lasted longer than the moms!

I gave the kids Zumba bracelets for Halloween (along with a little treat bag) - they loved them. So now I'm thinking Zumba t-shirts for all of them for the holidays!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Taking Chances!

Last Saturday was the 1st Zumba class after 2 weeks. We were off for Columbus Day weekend, and the previous Saturday I was supposed to do a 5K for Breast Cancer, but wound up sick in bed all weekend.

Needless to say, it was nice to see my students after the 2 week break.

I was not sure what to expect. It is my experience in the field of autism and special needs, that a break usually means that we might have to start from scratch upon returning.

They were all smiling, and ready to begin. They all took their places, eager for the music to start!

None of them missed a beat. In fact - they seemed to remember the music and the choreography perfectly. I also noticed a change in each student.

When I start teaching Zumba to a group of typical adults, they all start off a little hesitant amd reserved. As the weeks progress, I get to see the students evolve from quiet and clinging to the back of the class, to a group whooping, adding their own moves in, and starting to enjoy it for themselves.

I saw something similar take place this past weekend.

B - a beautiful young lady who started off shy, but smiled everytime I praised her, was laughing, smiling, and waving her arms around in new ways. I saw her taking more chances with the steps, and noticed her standing next to me more, liking what she saw in the mirror.

D, who marches to the beat of his own drummer and tends to get easily distracted, followed each and every move during the last class. He was smiling, jumping, and flapping through the moves - as he often does when he is happy - but has begun to follow when I move from side to side, up and down, and adding new arm movements.

L, who is hearing impaired, continues to smile and watch his friend X, who is a natural leader and enjoys pushing his friends to move more, shouting out praise and good jobs every step of the way. Whenever L gets lost with a move, all he needs to do is watch X, who will tell him, "Come on, L! Do this L! Great job L!"

X also started throwing in some awesome arm movements that I stole and started to incorporate into a few songs. In the next few weeks, I plan on giving him an opportunity to do some moves in front of the class and lead us. I think he will rise to the occasion!

Up until last week, I have been careful about my songs, and my choreography. I have been hesitatnt to throw any moves at them that are too fast or too complicated. But they were all so completely *ON*, I began to speed up my moves. And the stayed with me.

So, I decided to throw caution completely into the wind, and switched up my playlist. I put on Descarga de la Luz by Orquesta de La Luz. It is one of my favorite salsas - but it is fast, and over 6 minutes long.

Here is a live version of the song so you get an idea of what it sounds like

It was like these guys were born to salsa. They followed every move I threw at them. During the drums we all used our hands to shake and "play the drums". I would then just throw salsa moves at them.

They just get the formula. They can follow the pattern of the song and can just sense what comes next.

Since the song was so long, I also just gave them an opportunity to move and feel the music. The parents stood and watched, transfixed. They did not know their kids could move like that!

I had to fight back tears. I know - it's so silly. But to feel that electricity in the air during this was such a moving experience... I didn't want it to end!

They were all laughing, singing along - just being themselves.... to music.

One of the moms said her son is recognizing the music he hears in his class when he goes out in the community. He gets so excited when he hears the music!

The class went over a little, and some other students who come for special needs martial arts got to see a bit of the class, and were free to jump in. 2 young men jumped into the last 2 songs so easily!

It was so nice seeing them all again after 2 weeks. They make waking up early on a Saturday morning so worthwhile!!!