Waukesha dance center to offer free program for children with special needs

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Kate Moody, owner of Liberty Dance Center in Waukesha, is a self-proclaimed lover of dance. That extends to those who appreciate dancing but may not be so fortunate as most patrons of her business.

For instance, Moody attended a recent dance competition and was impressed with a dancer with Down syndrome. While all the fancy steps were impressive, so were the dancers, who generally get better with practice. This dancer ended up winning a special plaque.

"She was holding it and kept turning it over to look and read the plaque," Moody said.

With such examples in mind, Moody saw the logic of formally extending such opportunities to Liberty Dance.

Reaching out

Liberty Dance Center, 404 Travis Lane #38, announced the studio has partnered with Darby’s Dancers, a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization to launch a dance education program for children with special needs at her dance studio located in Waukesha.

Moody's father, Mike Theisen, who is in charge of community outreach for the dance center, said the idea to start a program for special needs children has been a goal for the center since its inception. (Liberty Dance Center was founded in July 2008 and provides dance classes in a variety of dance styles to more than 400 students ranging from ages 2 to 18.)

Theisen said the center was inspired in part by his daughter Kelsey Gebert, who teaches autistic children at New Berlin Eisenhower.

His granddaughter had a party at the dance center and there were two boys in her class with special needs. One of the boys was so happy after he was invited he ran to his mom.

"His mom cried during the dancing, out of joy," Mike Theisen said.

Then, during a recent convention, Moody met Valerie Jones, founder of Darby's Dancers, who created the program in memory of her daughter Darby Emma Jones, who died in 2013. Darby was born with Down syndrome, a heart defect, and leukemia. Despite it all, Darby loved was dancing.

"Dance lifted her life and ability to perform," Mike Theisen said.

Pilot effort

The Darby’s Dancers dance education program will start during the 2017 summer session with a pilot class for 5-10 children with special needs and provides weekly dance classes.

This will be the second Darby’s Dancers program in Wisconsin and the first in the Southeast Wisconsin.

"We are very excited. This is something we talked about since opening the studio. Valerie gave us a foundation and base on how to do the program well," Moody said.

The program will be provided completely free –  including dance classes, dance attire/shoes, and dance recital costumes – to the dancer’s family.

The cost of this program will be funded by the studio along and support from local businesses and individual/family partners throughout the community.

Ballera in Brookfield has made a generous offer, Moody said, noting that owner Debbie Turelli is donating dance shoes for the pilot program free of charge.

The older dancers at the center are already volunteering to be coaches during the pilot program. Moody said the kids are not phased by anyone with special needs.

To ensure all dancers feel comfortable, there will be sensitivity training for high school volunteers who never volunteered before.

In addition to her dancers, many parents have also volunteered to help out as well as special education professionals.

Jones has provided a tool kit to help the center get the pilot program off to the right start. They have also reviewed the class application to make sure they are able to find out about the dancers and customize a class for them.

The pilot program will be offered during normal hours, adding to the inclusiveness of its programs for students. While Moody said the center wants to make sure all students feel included, certain accommodations will be made. For instance, to sensory overload for special needs students, classes will be 30 minutes instead of the usual hour, and class sizes will be smaller.

The center has also consulted with Wisconsin Easter Seals and the United Performing Arts Fund.

Dancing onward

Moody realizes many kids won't continue with dancing after high school. As a teacher and dancer, she doesn't mind if her students become a ballerina or a doctor.

"It is the passion for dance, that is what we drive off of," Moody said.

To find out more about the program, go online at www.libertydancecenter.com or contact Mike or Kate at Liberty Dance Center either by phone 262-349-9698 or via email at info@libertydancecenter.com.

Liberty Dance Center is located on Waukesha’s southside just off Hwy 59 between East and West Avenues at .

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