Share this story

Dance Classes Help Those with Special Needs Cope with the Pandemic

By Debbie Barnes | Photography by Peter Hinsdale

Dance Classes Help Those with Special Needs Cope with the Pandemic

In today’s world, I feel a lot of people have found it hard to develop the coping skills necessary to survive the pandemic that we have experienced over the last year. I have found that it is even harder for those individuals who have an intellectual challenge, those with “special” needs.

I have been blessed, over the past 15 years, to oversee Children of Mary, which is a special needs social group whose base is out of Corpus Christi Church in Carol Stream. Children of Mary’s mission is to provide the tools and the resources to assist each individual in his/her Christian journey toward a fuller and richer quality of life.  

Since she could stand, my daughter, Kira, has used music and dance as a stress release and coping mechanism along with her two other siblings – Braeden and Amara – both of whom have gone on to be professional dancers/teachers/choreographers.

Dance has been/is an integral part of our family’s life, and they both use their gifts and talents to incorporate the virtues of Catholic faith in their teaching, etc. Kira has taken dance classes throughout her life through park districts and special recreation organizations, but something has been missing.

Approximately five years ago, Braeden started a professional dance company (Symbiosis Arts) in Chicago to allow more dancers an opportunity to express themselves but also fulfill his passion of reaching out to the special needs community. Over the years, he has seen his sister Kira’s love for the art and how she can use dance to cope with the challenges she has.

Braeden said: “Over the years, I have seen dance studios limit classes for these ‘special’ individuals, and I wanted to create opportunities for them. Growing up with a special needs sister inspired me to use my God-given talents and make it a fulfilling experience for them.”

Amara also commented: “Through my many years of teaching, I have realized that positive reinforcement to a student goes a long way. With the unconditional love that the special needs student brings to the class, I continue to grow as a person as well as them. They teach me that it’s not the big achievements in life that matter, but the smile, the laughter, and the ‘high five’ that means so much to them. It’s all in respect for each other and humbling myself to realize that we are all equal in God’s eyes.”

Since the spring of the pandemic, Children of Mary has been collaborating with Symbiosis to have dance/movement and tap classes in a socially-distanced and diocesan-regulated environment. We started outside and since then moved to a large dance studio in the area. Its purpose was to provide coping skills for those who found it hard to comprehend what was going on with COVID restrictions and isolation from their peers.  We currently have participants from West Chicago, Wheaton, Bloomingdale, St. Charles, Bartlett, and Carol Stream.

We have piloted this program for almost a year now and have had great results. They love it. Kira stated, “It’s a time I can be with my friends. I am happy with them and sad if I can’t see them. It makes me feel good.

Another member of the program, Patti, added,“ I need to get out of the house so I can relax. It makes me calm down. It helps to be with my friends and make new ones.”

If you know someone who may like to try a class or if you have a son/daughter, or maybe for yourself, and would like to join our classes, the benefits are many: it fosters participants to get to or maintain healthy body weight; improves flexibility, strength and motor skills; increases confidence and self-esteem; offers an outlet for creativity and imagination; and is a great stress relief and helps diminish depression.

Currently, classes run every Saturday from 10-11 a.m. for dance/movement and 11-12 p.m. for tap. Location is On Pointe Dance Academy, 956 N. Neltnor Blvd., Unit 410, West Chicago. Symbiosis Arts wants to expand their classes to other areas of the diocese on the basis of need. If you have a large room and feel there is interest in the area, please let us know.

Symbiosis would also love to have this program run without cost to the student. Currently, the dance company incurs expenses for studio rental, teacher’s salary, and insurance. We are looking for individuals/groups who believe in our mission. If you would like to help sponsor this program with either a one-time donation, or a recurrent contribution, you can find more information and donation opportunities at https://shininglightnfp.org/, one can mail a check to Children of Mary, 140 N. Oakwood, West Chicago, IL, 60185. If you have any questions, please email debbie@shininglightnfp.org. All donations are tax deductible.

In conclusion, I feel that this is just another way not only the disabled individual can grow in their faith by using their gifts and talents through dance, but also everyone involved—teachers, parents, volunteers, and you. Please support us in prayer.