Enjoying the applause

4th February 2005 at 00:00

Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire

With their black bowler hats and purple waistcoats, the morris dancers of Fairfield special school in Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire, are increasingly in demand for local festivals and dance displays.

Fairfield's morris team was formed six years ago by the school's early years teacher Carol Macklin, herself a morris dancer. Its current 10 members include 16 to 19 year olds with Down syndrome, autism, epilepsy and challenging behaviour.

Children throughout the school dance as part of the curriculum: there are now several morris enthusiasts among the teaching and support staff and the latest school project is creating a longsword dance for pupils who use wheelchairs.

Students learn a new dance each half-term, says Macklin, and the educational gains are obvious. "There's a lot of counting: moving in for four, moving back for four. We talk about things like having partners who are opposite and partners who stand next to you."

Students make their enjoyment clear, she says; one in particular greets her in the corridor daily with the comment "I like dancing."

As they become accustomed to decorating their hats with fresh flowers for each performance, and working alongside the teachers who accompany them on recorder and melodeon, an even more valuable experience is the collaboration and performance - particularly the public applause they receive dancing in the Holmfirth and Cleckheaton folk festivals and with local mainstream schools.

"Many pupils lack confidence. When they arrive, sometimes it's difficult to get them to come into assembly. The fact that they have taken to performing to the wider community in such a big way is astonishing," says Macklin.

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