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Adaptive classes allow more children to join in the dance

Keira Card joins her sister Chloe in learning ballet movements. (Staff photo by Riham Feshir)1 / 2
Chloe Card’s cerebral palsy doesn’t keep her from learning ballet at an adaptive dance class in Woodbury. (Staff photo by Riham Feshir)2 / 2

Twin sisters typically grow up playing together, dressing in identical clothes and pulling pranks on each other.

But 5-year-old identical twins Keira and Chloe Card haven’t been able to experience that.

Until about a month ago, Keira had been going to ballet class while her sister Chloe would sit and watch. Though she could understand the moves and memorize them, Chloe’s cerebral palsy kept her from joining her sister on the bars as she did the pliés, pirouettes and attitudes.

Now Chloe isn’t just watching her sister, she’s performing in recitals and learning all kinds of jazz and ballet tricks in her own adaptive dance class.

Donning her tights, tutu and ballet flats, Chloe joins a few of her peers at Woodbury Dance Center’s one-room studio for an evening filled with energy, pride and independence.

The studio plays host to an adaptive dance class that allows children with special needs to feel a part of an extracurricular activity they could do without help from parents and school teachers.

The class was started when Lynn Card, the twins’ mother, asked studio owners if they could offer a ballet class with a curriculum to suit special needs children.

“The class is only half an hour, but she enjoys it so much,” Card said. “In this type of class she’s not as frustrated because when she’s shadowing her sister’s class, she’s reminded of what she can do and can’t do.”

Instructor Becky Lewis focuses on ballet during the two classes, which are offered to two different age groups on Thursday evenings.

But it’s also a creative movement class where they end each session with a dance party featuring some pretty skilled break dancers and contemporary steps.

“We’re not going to set limits on them,” Lewis said. “It’s a place that they can be themselves.”

Students in the class range in skill sets. Some are autistic, while others have Down syndrome.

But they all share one thing in common: It’s OK to move around across the smooth hardwood floors. It’s OK to watch themselves be silly in the wall-to-wall mirrors.

Parents don’t have to be near the dancers to correct their behavior like they do in public, said Sam Phillipi, assistant instructor, who works one-on-one with Chloe, as she’s not able to speak or stand on her own.

“She gets this lit -up smile because her physical restrictions aren’t holding her back from dancing,” Phillipi said.

Tracy Skoog, of Cottage Grove, brought her daughter Catrina to the class when gymnastics became too difficult for her to keep up with.

The 11-year-old girl who has Down syndrome gets excited about the class every week and “tells everyone she’s in dance and ballet.”

“I’m not expecting her to be a professional,” Skoog said, “I just want her to experience what everyone else is experiencing.”

Woodbury resident Keith Pabich has one older daughter in competitive dance, while 8-year-old Emma, who struggles with Autism, isn’t able to compete.

“She’s laughing already, she wanted to get in there early,” he said, as he described her demeanor before class. “She’s not communicative, but you can tell with the smile on her face that she’s excited.”

Two other Woodbury dance studios, 5 Star and Delmonico, have been offering adaptive dance classes.

Delmonico studio manager Barb Gilbertson said the class has been growing in popularity and students are in the midst of practicing for the upcoming spring recital.

“They’re just adorable,” she said. “They love it and they can’t wait to come to class.”

The classes provide opportunities for siblings to experience similar activities and share childhood memories.

Keira and Chloe both attend each other’s classes, alternating from Saturday to Thursday, as they watch one another learn what it takes to become a ballerina.

“We were doing it so much in our living room with a DVD but to be at ballet class,” Card said. “I’m just delighted to see (Chloe) in a ballet class.”

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.