Charity from the heart – adaptive dance

Charity from the heart - adaptive dance

Convent of the Sacred Heart seniors Olivia Thurman and Lydia Currie lace up their ballet shoes as they volunteer to teach adaptive dance classes in an effort to help children with Down syndrome explore the world of dance. Adaptive dance provides the students with an opportunity to enhance self-esteem, increase rhythm and improve posture, while forming friendships with their classmates. 
The adaptive dance program is sponsored by the Greenwich Ballet Academy that allows Olivia and Lydia to use their studio space. The adaptive dance program is tailored to individuals with Down syndrome, and focuses on creating an open environment where all can participate. The program facilitates creative expression, promotes the development of social skills and confidence, and provides opportunities for physical activity.
Ms. Keenan Kampa, a well-known American ballerina, danced for the Mariinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg. Her work with adaptive dance, and the adaptive dance program of the Boston Ballet inspired Olivia to volunteer. After watching videos online of Ms. Kampa’s work with the Jerome Lejeune FoundationOlivia pursued training from the Boston Ballet, and developed her own adaptive dance program.

Lydia Currie and Olivia Thurman lead Adaptive Dance class to promote creativity and self-expression among children with Down syndrome. Courtesy of Olivia Thurman
Lydia Currie and Olivia Thurman lead Adaptive Dance class to promote creativity and self-expression among children with Down syndrome.
Courtesy of Olivia Thurman ’16

“I think dance is a really great thing for all people, not just children with Down syndrome. Not only does it foster creativity, confidence, and self-awareness, but also it is a fun way to be active and interact in a social setting,” Olivia said. “I think it is also really significant that the classes are free, sponsored by the Greenwich Ballet Academy, which allows us to use the studios at no cost. This provides anyone, regardless of financial situation, with this opportunity for enjoyment and growth.”
The adaptive dance program ran for seven weeks during the summer at the Greenwich Ballet Academy. The class had a limit of seven students and was geared towards children ages 8 to 14 with Down syndrome. This fall, classes began September 19, and run Saturdays from 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm.
A current student in Olivia’s adaptive dance program previously reached out to the Greenwich Ballet Academy seeking an opportunity to dance. When Olivia learned there was interest in her own community for adaptive dance, she began developing her program. Lydia, a fellow class member and experienced ballerina, partnered with Olivia, and together they lead the classes.
“It is very important not only to teach the girls ways of strengthening their muscles and technique for dancing, but it is also important to make sure they’re having fun,” Lydia said. “Younger kids work best in a ballet class when they have things to look forward to. For example, we add in games and ‘crazy dance’ into our daily class to let the girls have fun, as well as doing Barre work and warm-ups. It’s important to never push them too hard, because it’s more important that they enjoy ballet class and leave class everyday excited about coming back the next week.” 
Olivia and Lydia dedicate their Saturday afternoons to volunteering so that all of the students have an opportunity to participate.
“Adaptive dance is so important because every kid, whether they have special needs or physical disabilities, should have the opportunity to dance. The financial freedom of the program also opens up the class to anyone who wants their child to be a part of the dance community – we never want anyone to feel left out,” Lydia said. “Ballet teaches determination, a good work ethic, and passion – every child can benefit from taking ballet classes, and we want to give anyone that opportunity.”
The adaptive dance program is still seeking students for their fall semester. For more information, please email [email protected]
– Holly Roth, Co-Features Editor