Valdosta Daily Times


April 13, 2014

Beautiful Dancers

Program for special needs children to host May recital

VALDOSTA — The Ballet School in Valdosta offers children with special needs the chance to live out their dreams of being a dancer. For many, this may have seemed like a far fetched dream given their physical limitations, but as the Ballet School proves, there is no such thing as a physical limitation.

Referred to as the “Beautiful Dancers,” this group of children is a true inspiration to every person who gets the joy of seeing them dance. These unique girls and boys attend a weekly class specifically for kids with special needs, including some wheelchair bound students. However,  Kelly Smith, owner and artistic director of the Ballet School, never saw these “limitations” as a reason for a child to not pursue their dance dreams.

The Ballet School has been offering this class for ten years now. Thanks to donations, these parents who are already swamped with outrageous medical bills don't have to worry about paying for the class as everything is made free to them. When the school was working on moving into a new studio a couple of years back, the Beautiful Dancers even played a role in the construction.

 In their old building, there were no wheelchair ramps and the dancers with limited mobility had to enter through the back door. Jennifer Carter, mother of ten year veteran dancer Catie who has cerebral palsy, said for the new building she simply “wanted Catie to be able to come in the front door like anyone else.”

The contractor and architect were so moved by these kids that they took it upon themselves to widen the sidewalk, completely redo the parking lot and make the front door fully accessible to these children at no additional cost to the school. Along with the outside renovations to the building, handicap accessible dressing rooms and bathrooms were also added.

This year's group of Beautiful dancers has a co-ed class of nine dancers who vary in age. Kelly Smith and Ashley Thompson, studio director and dance instructor, teach this class along with the help of volunteers, some of which are VSU students earning class hours. The dancers learn routines that they will perform alongside the other classes at the Ballet School at their recital.

These students are treated just as any other aspiring dancer would be and adhere to all the same rules. With this class, they are given the feeling of inclusion by being treated just as every child should be treated, with equality. Interacting with other children also opens up a social pathway and allows them to simply be themselves without fear while also helping to build their muscles.

It also serves as a type of therapy for the parents. While their kids dance, the parents hang out together and get to chat about their lives. They all understand the difficulties of each other's situations and take solace in having people to talk to.

At the recital in May, these children will dance both nights and are always a huge hit with guests. This outstanding group of dancers will be prepared to dazzle crowds with creative movement dance on May 2 and 3 at 7 p.m. at Mathis Auditorium. Admission is free.

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