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Tiny Ballerinas With Disabilities

On Sunday afternoons, little girls in tutus gather for their one-hour ballet class. In Evanston, Illinois, two classes are offered at the Ballet Class for Kids with Movement Disabilities. The first hour is designed for those with assistive devices and the second hour is for those who do not use them.

The program was begun and is managed by Dr. Citlali Lopez-Ortiz, a professional dancer, in affiliation with Northwestern University Parkinsonís Disease and Movement Disorders Center and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. The classes promote a social setting, creativity accompanied by music and physical exercise to help improve motor control. The tiny ballerinas just know that they are dancing.

At the Childrenís Therapy Center in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, ballet is therapy open to all children with physical, medical and developmental disabilities. At the preschool level, instructors sit on rolling chairs and place the little girls on their laps. They roll across the floor, guiding arms and legs in graceful movement.

Ballerina Dreams is the name of the class offered at Turning Pointe Academy of Dance in Toronto. Dancers arrive in traditional leotards and tutus. The instructors here also use stools on wheels, but they assist those in leg braces or other assistive devices by rolling around them and helping them with their routines. Before students begin, they are assessed by an occupational therapist for movement needs so that each receives individualized instruction.

A ballet class at the Metropolitan Ballet Theatre and Academy in Maryland is open to ambulatory students with special needs. Those needs include Down Syndrome as well as orthopedic, cognitive and behavioral disabilities. The dancers start warm-ups, stretches and all the other typical elements of any other ballet class except that the skills are adapted to each personís needs and it is conducted at a slower pace. Students who need assistance provide their own aides.

As each community becomes aware of the benefits of ballet, it is becoming an innovative method of physical rehabilitation for those with disabilities. It offers all the elements of good exercise, improves posture and helps strengthen muscles and bone. But the children are not concerned so much with that aspect; they are hardly aware of the physical benefits.

All the ballerinas know is that they are not sitting and watching someone else learn dance. They are not on the outside looking in. Being a ballerina is somewhat akin to being a princess, especially when it comes with a tutu. Those who have observed the classes say that the joy on the little ballerinas is immeasurable.

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