Community Magazine

Why Walk When You Can Dance?

By Specialneedmom2 @specialneedmom2

 Why Walk when you can Dance?

Dance Ability – A special needs showcase

I posted this earlier in Fall 2012.  A couple months later, Little Miss Adorable is an avid dancer and has mastered moves such as ‘the hokey pokey’ and ‘toes go up.’  She loves dance – and the costumes that go with it.

Here’s the orginal Dance Ability post:

Recently my son participated in an amazing special needs dance program called Dance Ability.  It’s staffed by one-to-one volunteers, and a very experienced dance instructor/occupational therapist.  A physiotherapist volunteers her time as well.  This program is in Milton, Ontario and will be expanding.

Run by dedicated volunteers, students flourish in the year-long program.  Students bring the ‘stuff’ of disability – walkers, leg braces, sound muffling headphones, artificial limbs.  But all that is forgotten as they shine in the dance studio.  The class celebrated their success at the end of year recital called, “Why Walk when you can Dance?”

Mallory, the occupational therapist and dance instructor talks about the program:

Dance Ability is about giving every child the opportunity to dance. It’s very simply, about providing the chance for students to participate in a dance class at a dance studio and to perform in recital with whatever support is needed. It was created based on our philosophy that…

 Each child is unique

Every child deserves equal opportunities

All children have the ability to dance

Some of the goals of our program include: To be inclusive for all children. To enable children to express themselves and realize their potential. To teach dance in a way that is adapted to provide appropriate challenges for each child in a safe manner. To develop a community among families, dancers, and volunteers.

What is your background in dance and special needs?

I started dance at the age of 3, and competed all the way through my University years in jazz, tap, musical theatre, hip hop lyrical, ballet, etc. In University I started the Varsity Dance team at UOIT, and also organized and hosted a University/College Competition for three successful years; I have always believed in creating opportunities to dance. I grew up volunteering as an assistant teacher in many young dance classes at Dance Elite and knew that teaching kids was something I was very passionate about. I later obtained my certification to teach dance through the Canadian Dance Teacher’s Association and have been teaching classes at Dance Elite for four years.

My personal experiences with children with special needs began at a young age when I babysat a young boy with Fragile X syndrome. Getting to know this boy was really inspiring for me, he had a big impact on my perspectives at that young age. Looking back now it is interesting because his mom was one of my dance teachers, and he himself had taken preschool ballet (maybe this was an early sign for me!).

In high school I took a Peer Tutoring and Mentorship course in which I had the opportunity to work in a GLE classroom with students with various needs. I have also worked as a special needs counselor for summer camps, coached a Challenge League baseball team for boys with special needs in Oshawa, and volunteered for Best Buddies – Community Living at UOIT.

I had always considered a career in Medicine, and during my undergraduate degree in Health Sciences I learned about the field of Occupational Therapy. This was the perfect fit between working with individuals with special needs, teaching, and making a difference. I have recently completed my Master’s in Occupational Therapy at the University of Toronto and now work as a community pediatric OT, primarily in schools in Durham region, which I thoroughly enjoy.

During my Master’s degree a friend of mine sent me a video about a dance program started by an OT (in collaboration with a dance studio) for children with special needs. Immediately a light went off, everything clicked, and I realized that THIS is what I wanted, and needed to do. As one person, I had the skills and experience of the OT and the dance teacher combined! Dance Ability is the perfect combination of my passion for teaching dance, love for children, and knowledge and experience of working with children with special needs. I’ve been truly grateful that my experiences have led me to this wonderful opportunity.

Why do you run this program?

As a dancer, I have experienced the significant impact that dancing has had on my life. It gave me confidence, a positive self-image, and a life-long network of dance friends and mentors. It taught me the value of hard work, as well as valuable time-management skills. Dance has been the one constant thing in my life; every time I leave the studio I feel a renewed sense of motivation. As a dancer, I started this program to share this experience and passion with others.

As an Occupational Therapist, I understand the value of participation in meaningful activities. For children with special needs, these meaningful activities may be more challenging to find. Being able to participate in an activity, such as dance, adds to your personal identity. I think it is wonderful for our students who are often seen as “kids with special needs” to be seen as “dancers”.

For them to be able to talk about dance, and to perform for friends and family is something that goes beyond just learning how to dance. It really is a form of self-expression and recognition that they too are capable of anything. As an Occupational Therapist I created this program because I had the experience to be able to offer an opportunity that is important on so many levels.

What do you hope students will gain?

The most rewarding part of this program is observing the changes in our students, our volunteers, and sometimes our parents, throughout the year. Every class, I leave feeling so grateful to have witnessed the gains made from each of our students. These successes come in different forms, but for me, the biggest thing is when the students, volunteers, and parents see our class as dancers who CAN.

Realizing the potential that these children have is so important, and finding a way to work together to bring that out is what I hope to do so that everyone understands that these children CAN do things, just in their own way. The least I can hope for is that each student will gain something, depending on what their own goals are, and what they consider to be a gain.

What’s truly inspiring is how often the gains that are made are beyond the physical gains, and surpass anyone’s expectations. I continue to learn from my students, volunteers, and families every day.


Angela says: I was in no way compensated for writing this post.  Mallory hopes to turn Dance Ability into a non-profit organisation and hold classes across Ontario.  If you are interested in this program, please contact Mallory at [email protected]

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