The Importance of Inclusivity: How Dance Empowers the Special Needs Community in Singapore

Join ANNIKA MEI DAS as she explores how the special needs community is empowered through the universal language of dance.



Annika Mei Das    

Hype Editor

Hype Issue #59

Published on
June 7, 2024

Dance is for everyone. Even if you think you are ‘too old’, ‘too inflexible’ or ‘not creative enough’, there will always be a place for you in dance. 

The art of dance truly welcomes everybody, even those with diverse abilities. Some may believe that members from this community aren’t abled enough to dance. However, there are specialised programmes that help children and youths nurture their abilities and give them a creative outlet to express themselves. 

Meet Ms Wong Wai Yee, the creative director of A Little Raw Company , an extension of Raw Moves , established in 2011. After taking up a teaching course in 2013, Ms Wong started teaching young people with special needs as she wanted to learn more on how to educate them. After completing the course, she was invited by one of the lecturers from ​​Rainbow Centre, to teach the children dance. She hasn’t stopped working with children with diverse abilities since.

Pet Sitter

Ms Wong Wai Yee (Photo courtesy of Ms Wong Wai Yee)

How class is conducted

From 11:45 am to 1:45 pm every Saturday, Ms Wong heavily relies on a schedule to conduct the class. To her, having a schedule is very important in ensuring that the students are aware of what they’ll be doing in class that day. With her blue whiteboard, she shows the students what they’ll be doing every hour. 

They start off with a friendly greeting before proceeding to slowly warm up by incorporating basic contemporary elements. These include the articulation of the feet, taking deep breaths, and rolling up after stretching to signal the completion of the warm up.

Ms Wong (in front on the right) leading warm-up in class. (Photo taken from @rawmovessg on Instagram.)

Given the inherent challenges in teaching a diverse group of 12 students, Ms Wong has two teaching assistants to aid her in conducting classes: Matthew Goh, Company Dancer of Raw Moves, and Novella Josephine, a NAFA undergraduate.  

After a quick break, they proceed to explore different aspects of dance, such as body percussion which teaches them the importance of rhythm.

Finally, they end class by “letting loose” and performing choreography to popular songs by the hottest artists in the world, such as Taylor Swift. This gives them a creative outlet to express themselves in a safe space. 

Lion Dancing

Students of A Little Raw expressing their creativity. (Photo taken from @rawmovessg on Instagram)


Similar initiatives 

RAW Moves isn’t the only dance studio in Singapore with specialised programmes for dancers with diverse abilities. Diverse Abilities Dance Collective is a community initiative by Maya Dance Theatre, which aims to create a safe space for dancers and artists with special needs. They train in both Bharatanatyam  and Contemporary  dance techniques, and also engage in skills that may help them secure future employment in the Arts industry.

What it’s like working with those with special needs 

In Ms Wong’s experience, students with special needs have extremely curious minds and are open to exploring different elements of dance, such as movements in time and space. However, she notes that she faces “emotional challenges with regulating their overly high or very low energies”.  

Ms Novella, a teaching assistant at A Little Raw Youth Programme, shares her experience with working with the students in the programme. 

“Facing different diverse-abilities kids has been a new experience for me [as] I need to adapt and think faster in certain situation[s]”, she explains.  

When asked about how dance empowers the special needs community, Ms Novella explains that she “believes that dance itself could improve their physical capabilities and coordination, as it also helps in individuals’ discipline, confidence, and creativity”.

She also shares that though she was initially afraid to teach because she faced difficulties with communicating her thoughts to the children, Ms Wong was the one who encouraged her not to give up and to step out of her comfort zone. With the benefit of Ms Wong’s great experience, Ms Novella has realised that out of all the skills she has picked up, it is the notion of being adaptable in her teaching approach that is of most value. Teaching those with diverse abilities is not a one-size-fits-all solution. 

The future of inclusivity in Singapore

Ms. Wong feels that she came into the field of therapeutic dance right at the time when public perception began to shift. She has noted a definite, positive change in attitudes to those with diverse abilities since 2013. 

“Schools are educating about inclusion and how to work together with classmates with disabilities,” she notes. 

Additionally, there are events such as the annual Purple Parade, the largest movement in Singapore that promotes diversity and inclusivity as well as Enabling Village’s Arts Festival. These events educate the public about the importance of inclusivity and provide a platform to showcase the artistic abilities of people with diverse conditions.  

As we look toward the future, Ms Wong acknowledges the positive trajectory Singapore is following in terms of becoming a more inclusive society. 

“Singapore has definitely come a long way to embrace inclusivity as more social and arts organisations come together to work towards a culture of inclusion- opportunities to express, create, and contribute to a more vibrant & socially enriching nation.”