Encouraging confidence and social interaction through dance

As the piano music starts, seven little girls dressed in leotards, tutus and buns twirl along with the song.

With each beat they become more excited. The girls slowly sashay from one corner of the room to the other, gliding across the floor as if the movement is effortless.

 However this is not the case.

These seven little girls all suffer from different levels of cerebral palsy.Dancer Carley Roberts sings along with the song.

Photo taken by Bre Brezinski

Although the movement is difficult, the four-to-seven year-olds do their best to mirror the actions of their dance mentors and teachers.

The class for these seven little dancers is organized by the Cerebral Palsy Association in Alberta, otherwise known as CPAA, and takes place weekly at Counterpoint Dance Academy in southwest Calgary.

Mezaun Lakha-Evin, associate executive directive at CPAA, describes the class as being an outlet for the children to express themselves, while having social interaction.

The class allows the girls to make friends and build self-esteem because “they are doing something that other children are doing,” says Lakha-Evin.”Our kids go in there not knowing what is going to happen, but they leave with big smiles.”

The weekly dance class is beneficial to the children because it is giving them “the opportunity to do the best they can with what they’ve got,” she says.

With cerebral palsy it is about being able to use the muscles as much as you can for as long as you can.

“Dance gives the opportunity for using muscles that are probably not generally used,” says Lakha-Evin

Although the seven little girls suffer from different levels of mobility, visual or other disabilities, Lakha-Evin’s says that for the duration of each class “in their minds they are dancing.”

“There is nothing stopping them from being ballerinas. There is no ‘can’t’ in what they can do.”

Along with improving motor skills, the long-term benefits of this class are more than just the dance movements; it is the confidence that is built within each dancer.

Dancers in the CAPP Dance Without Limits program meet every saturday at Counterpoint Dance Academy.

Photo taken by Bre Brezinski “It is really about the whole idea of kids feeling that they are part of a larger community,” Lakha-Evin’s adds.

The CPAA Dance Without Limits program began two and a half years ago when the demand for the class became evident in Calgary – a similar program has been around for five years in Edmonton.

Another company in Calgary that focuses on using a similar therapy form is Dubasov Dance and Wellness Inc, which offers programs to people of all ages with different kinds of disabilities.

Telisa Dubasov, Founder and owner of the studio, says her goal is to get students with cerebral palsy, autism or Down syndrome “moving and to find a different means of expression for themselves.

Of these children with special needs, she says, “a lot of them are non-verbal, a lot of them have behavioral issues, a lot of them don’t often get the opportunity to participate in mainstream activities.”

The current dance class is a “therapeutic program in disguise,” says Dubasov. “There are physical benefits from the class.”

“Most little girls in terms of ballet just want to dance and this gives them theKeziah Heppner enjoys the weekly Cerebral Palsy Association in Alberta’s weekly dance class.

Photo taken by Bre Brezinski opportunity to do that while gaining gross motor skills, fine motor skills and while getting social interaction,” says Dubasov.

Even though it may not look like a typical dance class, Dubasov says that all of the dancers are engaged in their own way.

Courtney Heppner, a mother of a student in the CPAA Dance Without Limits class agrees with the benefits explained by Lakha-Evin and Dubasov.

“I love that she can do a dance class. Most typical ones she wouldn’t fit in. And she can be like all little girls,” she says of her daughter Keziah Heppner, who has been in the dance program for two years now.

Although at times there are challenges, she always finds the class enjoyable.

The smile on Keziah’s face widens as her mother says she likes “to be able to dance and have fun and be a princess.”

The long term social and confidence skills are what draw students and parents to these types of classes, Lakha-Evin’s says.

The overall goal of these programs she adds, are to “give them the confidence to try something as they get older – to continue dancing, to want to go to rock climbing, or horseback riding, because someone said they could be in a dance program when they were four years old.”

bbrezinski@cjounal.ca