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Special movement class for special kids

By Staff | Oct 28, 2016

It’s been said that dancing stimulates the body, mind and soul. That certainly appears to be true on Saturday mornings at Allegro dance studio at 71 Edmond Road, Unit 5 in Kearneysville in a class of special students.

Emily Hockman, dancer and physical therapist at Berkeley Medical Center is fulfilling her lifelong dream by creating and teaching a movement class to students with special needs, helping to bridge a gap in much-needed programs in the area.

“It’s always been a passion of mine, especially getting into my profession and treating kids, to do a dance class for kids with special needs, particularly since there’s not much around this area for them,” said Hockman.

Classes begin with stretching and progress into movement around the room using different props like scarves or a big parachute, while listening to upbeat music and instruction from an enthusiastic Hockman.

Children in the class have varying abilities and in some cases, can not move their limbs on their own. Veteran dance students at Allegro come each week to assist Hockman, physically helping the children move arms and legs when needed.

“This is therapeutic for the kids, but I don’t want them to think of it as ‘therapy’,” said Hockman. “That’s the challenge-to make it fun, creative movement versus the typical therapeutic movement. It’s great to switch out of the role of therapist and move more into the dance teacher role. We get them to move, get them to stretch, get them to learn more body awareness and be creative. It’s wonderful to see their progression.”

One of the students, Jada, a second grader, has cerebral palsy and is usually in a wheel chair. Jada’s mother, Jeanette Stup said she is pleased that the class allows Jada to be out of her chair and have assisted movement for a portion of class.

“This is the first class of this type that Jada has participated in,” said Stup. “She likes it a lot. She communicates to us through her iPad, so we know that she loves the class and adores Emily (Hockman). I really like that they have assistants in there to help and get her on the floor to work with her because her signals from her brain to her limbs are slower and she can’t perform the movements on her own when directed.”

Stup continued, “I’m just so thrilled that this class is here. It’s hard to find things for her to do in her chair. Even if we find something, people have to help her a lot, and not too many people are willing to do that like they are here.”

Savannah, another student, has a condition called ‘hypotonia’ which means that she has low muscle tone. Her parents describe it as her muscles being like a ‘loose, floppy rubber band.’ Savannah, 6, has had multiple surgeries and gets around wit the aid of a walker.

“She loves her dance class, and we love her dance class,” said her mom, Shaquita Basileo.

Her father, Brian Basileo added, “She loves to do anything. It’s hard to find things that are accessible. She’s invited to birthday parties and the kids are all jumping on a trampoline-she can’t really do that. She can be on a soccer team, but she can’t really play.”

Shaquita continued, “We tried a regular dance camp one time for like a week. It was heartbreaking because she couldn’t keep up with the other kids. Before she had her walker, she would just scoot on the floor. When there was an exercise where the kids had to go across a room, by the time she made it to one side, the other kids were already back to the other side. They tried to include her, but it just wasn’t something like this (class). It’s been so good for her, and the teacher is actually a physical therapist, so if there are things she (Savannah) can’t do, the teacher understands that.”

Lindsey Knott, Allegro owner, said that it’s always been the philosophy at Allegro that everyone should have the chance to dance. When the suggestion was made to have a class specifically for special needs students, Knott was on board 100 percent.

“We made it happen. It’s how we do things here,” said Knott. “We got the floors done and got the ramps with a lot of help from the dads of our students. People just came together to make sure this class could happen.”

“The classes have only been for 4 or 5 weeks, but they’re already gaining more flexibility,” said Hockman. “It’s just wonderful to see. The number one thing is that it’s fun and they’re enjoying it.”

These special movement classes are offered on Saturday mornings from 10-11 a.m. However, Knott wants to make it clear that any child with special needs can participate in other classes and do not have to be limited to this particular Saturday morning class.

Allegro has scholarships available for qualifying families with special needs children who would like to participate in class, but might be having financial difficulties due to high medical bills, etc.

Contact the studio for more information, 304-671-9813 or visit them on the web at www.allegrodancecompany.com.