The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — They giggle, they glide, they spin and they shine.
They are students with a lot of heart, a positive attitude, plenty of patience and poise and a deep desire to dance.
They are the members of the creative movement dance group at the J.D. McCarty Center for children with developmental disabilities in Norman.
The center hosts the dance classes for children with special needs, ages 4 to 21, as an opportunity for kids to learn about dance, work on physical movements and have an outlet to express themselves. The eight-week classes started in February and concludes with a recital in April.
The program is a great opportunity for kids with disabilities to boost their confidence, enhance social skills and build muscle strength, said Beth Morton, director of physical therapy at the center.
“Movement is crucial for development,” Morton said. “That’s how kids explore and learn.”
Students from the University of Oklahoma lead the classes, and the dance moves can be adapted to accommodate a child’s ability level. Students partner with one child and work with that child in each class. A therapist from the center also is present in classes.
The creative movement dance group started last fall for inpatients and outpatients at the center, which specializes in the care and treatment of children with developmental disabilities.
Emily Scheele, a sophomore at OU, leads the creative movement dance group and was instrumental in organizing the dance classes at the center.
Scheele said she was motivated to offer the classes because of her love for dance and a desire to work with kids with disabilities. The Colorado native has been a dancer since she was 3, and the majority of her training is in ballet.
Also, while in high school, she served as a math tutor for students with disabilities.
“I found that it was so much more rewarding than anything I’d done,” Scheele said.
So, she wanted to combine her interests into a program that could benefit kids with disabilities, while introducing them to dance.
Scheele met with Morton last summer about offering the dance program. She then took a course to receive her certification in after-school programs administration from the American Camp Association with an emphasis on working with children with disabilities. She also shadowed a dancer teacher from the Colorado Conservatory of Dance who offers a class for kids with disabilities.
Last fall, Scheele formed the Expressive Movement Initiative, which is a student organization that aims to introduce the art of movement as an expressive outlet to children with developmental disabilities.
Scheele then recruited students with experience in dance, therapy or education to join the group and help with classes.
The kids in the creative movement dance group include those who are autistic or have spina bifida and cerebral palsy. In the classes, they learn moves that involve jumps and turns.
At the start of each class, the kids rush to find the OU student they are partnered with and smile and laugh as they work on moves together. In a recent class, Scheele asked the students to pick their favorite dances and perform those in front of the group. Each performance was met with enthusiastic applause and words of encouragement.
Parents of children in the class said they are thrilled about the program and proud of the progress their kids are making. They also talk about how well their children remember the names of the dances they perform and how willing they are to show family and friends what they learn.
Cheryl Edwards believes the class helped her granddaughter, Anicka, 7, who has cerebral palsy, build muscle and focus.
“It has been awesome. She has really become immersed in music,” said Edwards, of Stonewall. “She can’t wait every Thursday to go to dance.”
Janette Nichols of Norman signed daughter, Jordyn, who has spina bifida, up for the classes as a way for her to exercise and have fun. She is doing that and so much more. The 5-year-old has quickly become a dancing queen.
“Jordyn dances everywhere now. She chassés in the Walmart parking lot,” Nichols said. “In fact, a couple of weeks ago she was literally dancing in the aisles at our church during worship songs. Dance class has opened her up to a new world of ways she can move her body.”
Nichols said she also is impressed with the OU students who work with the dancers.
“We have thoroughly enjoyed the dance instructors and helpers themselves who have warmly and positively supported Jordyn beyond words. We cannot say enough wonderful things about this dance class and are grateful to be a part of it.”
The college students said they admire the kids they get to work with.
Caitie Bogenrief, a senior, is partnered with Jordyn and said she loves seeing the excitement and talent emerge from the dancers.
“It brings joy and happiness to my heart every time,” Bogenrief said. “You just see them light up. It’s amazing.”
Scheele said her hope with the classes is that the kids will grow socially, creatively and physically from their experiences.
She also sees the dance program as a chance for kids with disabilities to show others some of the multiple talents and skills they possess.
“That is what this program is: a chance. And we plan to provide each of our students with an opportunity to creatively express themselves, specifically because we feel they have so much to say.”
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