For a group of dance students in Midlothian, the spotlight and cheers of the audience come second to feeling normal. The adapted dance class students at All About Dance wear the biggest and brightest smiles on stage, because they feel just like one of the other dance students when they hear the applause.
“One girl told me I helped her achieve her goal of just being normal and feeling like she fit in,” All About Dance instructor Lindsey Underwood said.
That one girl is Chelsea Sims and the opportunity to dance and forget about her disability has been a dream come true not only for her.
“It made me cry to see her perform for the first time. My dream for her had come true,” Darla Sims, Chelsea's mother said. “When I was younger I loved to dance, and I still do. I always dreamed of my daughter learning to dance too. No parent ever expects or is prepared to have a child with special needs.”
Chelsea has a rare disorder that causes seizures called GLUT1 deficiency syndrome. She was diagnosed in 1993 as one in ten to have the disorder worldwide. Due to her disability, Chelsea is limited in what she can do physically.
“When she was younger, Chelsea would just stand there all day in front of the glass doors, watching the kids run and play outside,” Darla said, tears welling in her eyes. “It broke my heart to watch her. This is a way out for her. Dancing let's her forget about her disability.”
Underwood had considered starting a dance class specifically designed for children with special needs and disabilities.
“Autism runs in my family and my cousin's son inspired me to do something to make these children feel included,” she said. “The world can be so cruel sometimes and I saw how some people reacted to him.”
In middle school, Underwood became close friends with her autistic cousin and developed a compassion for special needs children. In her senior year, she participated in Partner P.E., which pairs seniors with special needs students, and it left a lasting impact on her life.
In 2010, Underwood's own desires, coupled with some encouragement from Darla, who takes Zumba at Underwood's studio, led her to start up an adapted dance class.
“It was something I always wanted to do, because many special needs children cannot play outside or participate in some sports,” Underwood said. “I was reluctant at first though, because I was worried. I've never seen or heard about some of these different types (of disabilities) and I felt like I didn't know exactly what I was getting into.”
Three students, including Chelsea, enrolled in Underwood's first adapted dance class. The dance lessons have not only had an emotional effect on Chelsea, she and the other students have all seen physical improvements.
“Her neurologist could tell the classes had helped her,” Darla said. “It has also helped with her leg muscles and her ataxia.”
As a result of her disorder, Chelsea has poor coordination and rigid leg muscles. Practicing ballet, jazz and hip hop routines in Underwood's class has helped her balance, coordination and loosened her muscles.
“I think the opportunity to get out and learn not to be afraid of performing has boosted their confidence,” Underwood said. “They get the opportunity to participate in all of the same events, recitals and parades as my other students do.”
For Underwood, seeing the smiles and hearing the applause for this group of dance students is even more rewarding.
“This is by far the most rewarding class I have, because the smiles on these students are bigger and brighter than any other,” she said.
As Underwood begins a new season of dance lessons with eight adapted dance students, she said it is a dream come true to teach these girls “all about dance.”
For more information about All About Dance, www.allaboutdancetx.com or call 214-577-2636.