Little girls dream of becoming ballerinas, balancing on their tiptoes and stretching their arms to the sky. Their parents enroll them in dance classes to encourage the dream and to let them socialize with other children. But for some youngsters, the instruction is too fast, or they feel self-conscious about a characteristic or two that makes them unique and precious.
Before the start of dance class, 6-year-old Brielle Wearstler was reluctant to say her name. As if watching for something, or someone, she remained mostly quiet as children filtered into a large room inside Akron Children’s Hospital.
“Let’s go,” Kellie Lightfoot, a pediatric physical therapist, told the group of boys and girls. The children gathered around. Though Brielle was happy because her friend Makenzie Yovanovich had just arrived from Springfield Township, she still remained fairly subdued. And then the music began.
Wearing a tutu, she squealed and giggled as she danced, waving ribbons and pompoms. Makenzie, 6, grinned at her little pal while swaying to the tunes.
Once a week, children come to the hospital to dance. The effervescent Lightfoot shows them the moves. What they don’t realize is that they are receiving physical therapy, known as Dance Unlimited. And it’s pretty darn cool.
All of the children in the class, who are assisted by volunteers, therapists and physical therapy students, have special needs. Brielle, for instance, has Rett syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by normal early growth and development followed by a loss of use of the hands, problems with walking and intellectual disability. Makenzie has a rare form of congenital muscular dystrophy.
The class is the brainchild of Lightfoot, who has researched the benefits of such a program for kids with special needs.
“For many of the kids in class, this is their first opportunity to participate in a recreational activity,” Lightfoot noted. “They are able to open up and try new things without the fear of judgment from other kids.”
For many of the more than 40 participants, dance days are the highlight of their week.
“She lives for this,” Brielle’s mother, Tiffany, said of the therapeutic dance class. “Music is a big motivator for her.
“My older daughter goes to Miller South Performing Arts School for vocal so she is a singer. My house is like one big musical all of the time,” the Akron mother said, laughing.
And that’s complete with costumes, since Brielle has accumulated about a dozen tutus.
While there are increasing opportunities for those with special needs to participate in activities, there remains a huge disparity between programs for those with special needs and those without disabilities. That’s why Lightfoot, an energetic 30-year-old who went to graduate school at the Medical University of Ohio, encourages others who have expertise in various areas to create programs for this population — young and old.
“People would be surprised by what these kids can do, not what they can’t do,” Lightfoot said.
Parents can inquire about adding their child’s name to the waiting list for Dance Unlimited by calling the hospital at 330-543-8257.
Bereaved children often need help, but parents and caregivers just don’t know what to do for them. GriefCare Place in Stow is hosting a free camp for children ages 6-10 and 11-14 who have experienced the death of a loved one.
During the three-day camp, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 30 through July 2, kids will reflect on their feelings and memories, and learn ways to cope with all the hurts and challenges that the death has brought. Activities, art, books, play and therapy dogs will be incorporated into the program.
Heart-To-Heart Boot Camp will be held at Adell Durbin Park, 3300 Darrow Road, Stow. For more information or registrations, call 330-686-1750.
Way to go, girls
Daisy Girl Scout Troop 90249 of Ellet decided to use the profit earned from its recent sale of Girl Scout cookies to purchase socks and underwear to donate to the Summit County Children Services Clothing Center.