Class allows kids with special needs to kick up their heels

A little girl who uses a wheelchair had her arms stretched daily so she could learn a jazz dance routine.

Children with brain injuries, severe autism and Down syndrome danced jazz routines to Disney songs in a dance class designed specifically for children with special needs.

Mackenzie Wissler, a junior at IUPUI and a dance instructor at Le Rose Dance Academy in Franklin, hosted a dance class for children who have special needs during the summer. Enrollment is now open for fall classes that begin Aug. 26.

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Dance studios all across the county allow children with special needs to enroll in their regular dance classes. Wissler’s class is one of the only ones that fills a niche, allowing children with special needs to attend a dance class that is designed for them.

“It was everything I ever dreamed of and more,” Wissler said.

Part of the dance class was giving each of the dancers the one-on-one attention that special education children typically need, Wissler said.

The dance class was longer than a typical class and dancers had weekly goals to meet as a group. Wissler and her assistants made personal, typically social, goals that they wanted to see from the dancers.

For example, one child started taking direction only from her mother. Wissler wanted to work with the child until they were comfortable taking lessons and instruction from her and her assistants.

By the end of the class, she had achieved her goal.

Wissler taught them the same moves that she would teach in any other dance class. These students just got a little bit extra time to pick up the steps and more attention from instructors. Each class had about three students, allowing her and her assistants to give more one-on-on attention, she said.

“Our biggest goal was for them to stand there and do the dance for a minute or minute and a half,” she said.

Wissler started the program after being a dancer and then a teacher at Le Rose for most of her life.

She feels called to help special needs children and is pursuing a degree in special education.

Children with special needs are accepted at dance classes all across the county and can enroll in more traditional dance classes.

Wissler wanted an outlet specifically for special needs children, she said.

“I really wanted them to get social skills and a lot of being able to talk to peers, talk to me and talk to my assistant,” she said.

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Magen Kritsch is an editorial assistant at the Daily Journal. She can be reached at mkritsch@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2770.