Cary News

Dance lets children with special needs just be themselves

Deborah Tharrington dances with her 11-year-old son, Tony, at the third father-daughter/mother-son dance Sunday for children with special needs held by Graceful Expressions Dance Company, a Cary-based organization.
Deborah Tharrington dances with her 11-year-old son, Tony, at the third father-daughter/mother-son dance Sunday for children with special needs held by Graceful Expressions Dance Company, a Cary-based organization. ktrogdon@newsobserver.com

An infectious grin spread across 4-year-old Zoe Dingle’s face as her father, Lee, spun her around on the dance floor as other children shimmied and twirled to popular songs like “Happy” and “Let It Go.”

As a young girl with cerebral palsy, Zoe often faces challenges that many other preschoolers can’t relate to, but she doesn’t let them keep her from doing one of the things she loves most – to dance.

And on Sunday, she got to celebrate that with her family at the third father-daughter/mother-son dance for children with special needs held by the Graceful Expressions Dance Company at GRACE Christian School on Buck Jones Road. The dance company, which provides students dance training, leadership skills and community service opportunities, is a part of Graceful Expressions Dance Education, a Cary-based studio.

April Schweitzer, the director of Graceful Expressions Dance Education, said this dance allows everyone to let their guard down and enjoy themselves, as well as take part in the long tradition of parent-child dances.

“The first time we did it, we had a dad come up to us in tears, and he said, ‘For years, I’ve watched my friends take their kids to things like this, and I never imagined I’d be able to do that with my daughter,’ ” she said. “That’s why we do this.”

Many parents said they loved seeing their children’s faces light up as they stepped out onto the dance floor in a warm and welcoming environment.

Robbie can be apprehensive about new places and new things, and this is a safe place for him.

Shannon Dingle, Robbie’s mother

Mark Ulrich, a father of seven, said two of his children – Addy, 6, and Joshua, 8 – sometimes need time to adjust to new situations, but at Sunday’s event, they could be themselves. Zoe’s mother, Shannon Dingle, echoed those sentiments about her son, Robbie, 7.

“Robbie can be apprehensive about new places and new things, and this is a safe place for him,” she said.

The children and their parents also enjoyed other activities at the dance, some of which they had been looking forward to since last year’s event, like balloon animals and face painting.

“The guy who does the balloon animals remembers Zoe each year and makes sure that he’s got a balloon-animal monkey for her, because she loves monkeys,” Shannon Dingle said.

Volunteers

Dancers from Graceful Expressions Dance Company helped plan the event and served as volunteers by leading the children in crafts, painting faces and joining the children out on the dance floor.

Elizabeth Coberly, 17, said that when she was involved with the face painting last year, she noticed that the children had many of the same interests as others their age, from dancing to comic book characters.

“They still want to have Spider-Man (painted) on their face,” she said.

Graceful Expressions Dance Education not only helps put on events like this but also tries to give any person the opportunity to enjoy dance. Schweitzer said it is “pure joy getting to see kids express themselves.”

“Anybody who is interested in dancing, we try to find a way to make it possible,” she said. “I feel like everyone can benefit from dancing.”

Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608: @KTrogdon

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