Glen Rock mom teaches dancers with special needs


Photo Credit: Claudine Ranieri

Ms. Claudine Ranieri interacts with students at Chance to Dance.

by Julia Blando, Copy Editor

When one of her students with special needs approached her in 2013 to ask her for dance lessons, Claudine Ranieri immediately knew what her school was missing.

Ranieri, mother to a Glen Rock student and a Paramus High School dance teacher, started a dance elective at her school, meeting once a week, for students with special needs.

She first got the idea when she was approached by a male student in 2013, who asked if she could teach him how to dance. She decided to not only teach the student, but also all of his friends.

Having never attended prom herself, Ranieri attended her first prom to see her proteges use what they practices. She described the prom as a “true celebration,” and she joined her students on the dance floor.

From there, she was given full support from the administration and now has three dance classes with approximately 25 students with special needs, up to age 21. Each class that she teaches has been created and initiated by her, as was the PHS Dance Department in 2008.

In the classes, the focus is mainly on repetition, rhythm, understanding concepts of different levels of movement, coordination, recall and stimulation of the left and right sides of the brain.

Dancers are constantly learning how to utilize the body equally, which helps to stimulate one side of their body that they may not use on a regular basis. It is multisensory, which can involve clapping and criss-crossing the hands, working with a partner and eye contact, which helps to form a human connection.

“We all benefit from human connections. Everyone does,” Ranieri said. “It’s really incredible to watch that I can actually make that connection. I think it’s very very humbling and it definitely heightens your sense of humanity.”

Ranieri has seen significant improvement since the class has began. She said her students’ recall is growing, and they are able to build on material from week to week. When entering the class, students know that they remove their shoes, sit in a circle to warm up, apply what they do on the floor to standing and travel across the floor. Many of the students are able to follow line dances, and identify different parts of their body while moving, “almost like Simon Says, but it’s done musically.”

She has utilized her prior knowledge of teaching, “test drove” different approaches and found that what really works in all dance classes works with students with special needs. In many of her other classes, there are students with special needs mixed in with the other students. There is not much of a difference.

“Students all have different kinds of needs, but the most beautiful thing is that you really do see that dance just transcends and it’s very powerful. Their connection to the music and the movement is there,” Ranieri said.

The students are not the only ones benefiting from the class. Ranieri believes that working with students who have special needs has made her a better teacher.

“I do think every teacher who teaches should encounter students with special needs. They really do teach you a lot about teaching. It’s been a wonderful, wonderful experience, and I’m only lucky because I get to do it as part of my day.  I’m a little part of a very big puzzle, and it’s working,” Ranieri said.