The Dance Academy offers an inclusive class for children with disabilities.
The Inclusive dance class was created and designed especially for children with disabilities to feel safe and to participate in a class that promotes their social interaction and development of gross motor, coordination, and balance skills.
The class is directed by Olivia Zacharias, a sophomore at Columbia College studying elementary education. Olivia was asked by the original director, Bailey Baucum, to help teach the class in the spring of 2018, the first semester it was offered.
“Bailey went to school for occupational therapy and started the program,” Olivia says. “She recruited three dancers that would have the love, passion, and patience to teach the class. Bailey knew I always wanted to be a teacher, and so I was one of the first people to pop into her mind to help out.”
The next year Olivia was asked to direct the class when Bailey moved to North Carolina.
“I’ve always had a passion for working with children that don’t get the benefit of the doubt or equal opportunities,” Olivia says. “That’s a big part of why I took over; I didn’t want to see this class go away, and I wanted to continue to help kids who don’t have the same opportunities.”
The Inclusive class is 30 minutes long, during which each student has the same peer model for the semester to provide a sense of consistency and someone they can bond with.
The class always starts and ends in a circle. At the beginning, each student says their name and answers the question of the week. Next they do a few exercises that help them learn balance and coordination. Then, of course, they practice dances! At the end of class, the students circle back up to stretch to the same song every week — consistency is key.
Lydia Vogt (pictured above) has been an Inclusive student since the first semester. Her parents were excited to enroll her in a dance class that would allow her to be with other kids and have fun. In that time Lydia has not only learned to love dance, but she’s also become more social.
“In the beginning, Lydia would cry for her mom every week when class started,” Olivia explains. “It was a challenge to get her to do any of the dances. But one day something clicked. She had a huge smile on her face and was excited to learn. She also used to never talk, but now she’s the most talkative one in the class.”
The Vogt’s have watched Lydia grow very confident and proud throughout her time at The Dance Academy.
“Her smile is a mile wide when we tell her she has dance in the evening,” says Lydia’s mom, Michelle. “We love that she is learning to follow instructions, and she’s having fun doing it. We want her to continue to grow and become a confident and independent little girl, and this is definitely a great step towards that goal.”
Students can join The Dance Academy’s Inclusive class at any point in the semester. Classes are $30 per month or $150 for the semester; however, The Dance Academy partners with Boone County Family Resources, which directly works with families to help pay the cost of tuition for the class, if needed.
“The way we teach Inclusive takes a lot of things in perspective, and we have resources in place that help us,” Olivia says. “So, if money is an issue, it really shouldn’t be because Boone County Family Resources supports us and in turn supports our families.”