Therapy Through Dance

Therapeutic recreation programs enable persons with developmental disabilities to develop their capacity, performance and relationships with other persons. Boone County Family Resources support coordinators connect persons served to various recreation programs specifically designed and adapted for persons with developmental disabilities that meet the specific needs of the participant.

DanceAbility, a program of the School of Missouri Contemporary Ballet, believes that “every BODY deserves a chance to dance.” Taught by a Missouri Contemporary Ballet dancer with assistance from community volunteers who are also physical, occupational and speech therapists and special education teachers, the program not only teaches dance, but also many other skills such as socialization, participation, verbalization and confidence.

Addie in snowman costume holds hand of volunteer

Addie gets ready for her performance at the end of session recital.

Seven-year-old Addie is having a positive experience with DanceAbility. “Addie started DanceAbility last summer. She really enjoys it,” says Laura, Addie’s grandmother. “It’s nice for her to be around other kids her age doing the same thing. She has become more social – there are lots of hugs after class! She also knew another student in her dance class from school and was excited to see him again, too.”

Woman in leotard and tutu on stage

Rachel performed a solo
during her group’s recital.

Classes are formed for kids as young as 4 and students are grouped together by ages. There is also an adult class available. Rachel, age 27, has been participating since the adult classes began. “Rachel started taking dance at a young age, but there wasn’t a program specifically designed for kids with special needs. Her teachers at the time said she couldn’t stay focused,” says Rachel’s mom, Pam. “I even paid for private lessons for a couple of years because she loved dance so much. When the adult classes at DanceAbility became available, I knew Rachel would enjoy it. She absolutely loves it. Not only are the students learning how to dance, but they are learning compassion for others and kindness and other social skills.”

The program has a limited number of openings for each session because the instructors are each paired up with a student one-to-one. “A real connection is made between the dancers and the instructors,” says Laura. “Addie knew some of the teachers because they are also teachers at school or have been her therapists. In fact, it was one of Addie’s therapists that encouraged us to try DanceAbility in the first place.”

Olive in snowman costume gets ready to perform

Olive danced with the same age group as Addie.

The 12-week session concludes with a recital that allows the students to showcase their new abilities. Olive, age 7, has been participating in DanceAbility since its inception. “Probably Olive’s favorite part of dance is the performance at the end of the session,” says Olive’s mom, Katie. “You can just see it on all their faces. They love to show what they can do. They feel super famous when the audience claps. They have the opportunity to succeed. They get to be included.” Katie says the Olive’s feeling of belonging and not having to worry about her disability is what keeps the family participating session after session. “Not only is it such good exercise, it’s that feeling that none of it is a mystery. The teachers have all seen them before. They know these kids and they know what they are capable of.”

Karen, mother to seven-year-old, Ashton, echoes that the program has been great for her son. “Ashton is always very excited to go to dance and is ready and willing to participate. Socialization is a big benefit, in addition to core strength he’s developed, and his coordination has improved as well. He loves music and even after the recital is over, he keeps doing dance moves. I think his favorite part of the class is watching himself in the mirror as he learns the dance moves! This is definitely one of the best programs out there.”

Examples of other therapeutic recreation experiences persons served by BCFR may access include swimming lessons, horseback riding, art classes, gymnastics, ice skating and more.