"We want to ensure that we are able to provide our students with opportunities that will inspire them to become more independent and give them a helping hand to integrate into society."
- Mrs Chan Kwai Foong, Principal, Fernvale Gardens School
As the rhythmic beats of flamenco music filled the dance studio, a group of eager students stood in position, ready to take the cue from their dance instructor.
Once the signal was given, sounds of enthusiastic handclapping and feet tapping accompanied the vibrant music as these young dancers performed the flamenco, a traditional form of Spanish dance.
Intricate footwork and precise coordination are essential for this fiery, exciting and flamboyant dance, which is notoriously difficult to master. The flamenco dance can be especially challenging for this particular group of students, who are from Fernvale Gardens School – a school for students with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities.
LEARNING LIFE VALUES THROUGH THE PERFORMING ARTS
Fernvale Gardens School is the first Special Education (SPED) school to offer a Spanish dance programme to its students. The programme is subsidised by the Tote Board Arts Grant, which is aimed at encouraging the development of a vibrant arts culture in schools and promoting arts appreciation among students.
In doing so, the school took a “big risk”, revealed Mrs Chan Kwai Foong, principal of the school. “It’s not an easy dance, and anyone, with or without intellectual disabilities, may struggle with it,” she said.
But the risk paid off. Since the programme first started in September 2015, the students have made remarkable progress.
“When we first started out, the students didn’t even know the difference between left and right. But today, they are able to follow instructions and dance to the music. I am extremely proud of them,” said Ms Jean Ho, who is their dance instructor.
More importantly, through the programme, the school has been able to inculcate life values in the students.
“Our students learn values such as social responsibility, punctuality, cooperation and teamwork. For example, they learn to be responsible for themselves because they need to remember their dance steps and take care of their own costumes,” explained Mrs Chan.
“We want to ensure that we are able to provide our students with opportunities that will inspire them to become more independent and give them a helping hand to integrate into society – and this dance programme is one way for us to do so,” she added.
HAPPINESS ALL AROUND
Although the students have made improvements in leaps and bounds, training them wasn’t always easy, admitted Ms Ho. “One of the biggest challenges would be dealing with the students’ temperaments. At times, they would throw tantrums. Once, a student stayed in a squat position in the middle of the dance studio and refused to budge. As we couldn’t move her, we danced around her instead, to encourage her to join in.”
But seeing the happy faces on the students when they dance made all these challenges worth it. “The class is fun for me and I really enjoy it. It’s not difficult or tiring. I have many friends in this class and we can learn together,” said Joanna, one of the students of the class.
As the students continued with their dance performance, their smiles never left their faces – even as they fumbled with their steps or struggled to keep up with the music. With great determination and focus, they diligently danced their hearts out.
“Through this programme, they are able to gain confidence and feel good about themselves. That, to me, is priceless,” said Mrs Chan.
About The Tote Board Arts Grant
The Tote Board Arts Grant is available to both mainstream and special education schools. It aims to encourage the development of a vibrant arts culture in schools and promote arts appreciation among students by subsidising schools’ purchase of quality arts education programmes. The Board partners the Ministry of Education in the disbursement of the grant, while the National Arts Council endorses suitable programmes through its Arts Education Programme.