Evansville dance program inspires those with Down Syndrome

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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Natalie Rascher starts each summer dance class at SMILE on Down Syndrome with some stretching and talks with her students.

She asks them about their week and summer break as they prepare for the routines and new steps to come in the hour-long class. Rascher, at times, can't believe she's been teaching the classes for four summers now, and she wouldn't have it any other way.

"Before starting this class, I'd never taught an extended dance class for kids or adults with disabilities before," she said. "Seeing their dedication and passion shine through each class is amazing as an instructor. This is something I truly love to do."

In its fourth year, SMILE's summer dance class offers weekly dance classes for children and adults with Down syndrome as well as other disabilities. The class runs for seven weeks with a dance recital to finish off the class during the eighth week. This year's recital was scheduled for Aug. 10 at Johnson Hall in the Deaconess Health Science Building.

SMILE offers several classes throughout the year giving students a creative outlet. Nina Fuller, founder of the organization, said exercise classes created in the past have been very successful, and dance seemed like a perfect extension from that success.

The summer dance class started off as a one-time class five years ago. Rascher met Nikki Davis, executive director of SMILE, at a community event and decided to jump in on the idea. After the first class, SMILE wanted to extend the program to several weeks, and Rascher couldn't wait to take part in it.

Each year the program has a new theme. This year is the Olympics, and Rascher has created routines that incorporate cultural dances, music and movement from around the world. There are two classes -- one from children and the other for teens and adults -- and all the students learn about five different dances for the final recital.

Fuller hopes the program will eventually expand into a year round offering for families who might want to enroll their children at different times during the year. She said the organization is looking into creating even more opportunities for those with Down syndrome to connect with new people and build a community.

"We are more alike than differences. Dance is a common demonstrator around the world," Fuller said. "Anyone can dance and we want these students to feel included."

Cathy Boling, whose son Josiah, 15, is participating in the class, said SMILE has offered her son more chances to grow and learn than she'd ever anticipated. From a young age, Josiah loved to sing and dance, but hasn't had an outlet to perform for an audience or with his peers. Although they live north of Princeton, Boling said they try to get Josiah involved in as many programs with SMILE as they can.

Through his love of music and dancing, Boling has seen Josiah's verbal skills improve tremendously. He sang along with TV shows growing up and mimicked the dancing as well, which made signing Josiah up for the summer dance class a no brainer.

"There aren't many opportunities for (Down syndrome) kids out there. They can't always sign up for any basketball league or art lesson," she said. "We appreciate what SMILE gives Josiah and the many other families in this area."


Source: Evansville Courier and Press, http://bit.ly/2b8ecSo


Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, http://www.courierpress.com

This is an Indiana Exchange story shared by the Evansville Courier and Press.

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