Wisconsin Studio Offers Sitting Ballet Classes for Disabled Students

At the Kehl School of Dance in Madison, Wisconsin, children and adults who use wheelchairs or crutches can enjoy real ballet classes—sitting down. Teacher Jo Matzner came up with the idea after being sick and unable to take regular classes for nearly two years. "Everyone should dance if they want to," she told a local news station. "It's just taking our normal classes a step further."

Seated on cubes or in wheelchairs, dancers take barre, performing port de bras, cambres and other upper-body movements from a typical class. They also do some exercises with their arms that standing dancers do with their legs, including tendus, dégagés and développés.

In the adult classes, where all dancers have wheelchair experience, students perform center exercises and move across the floor. Matzner says they are working on spotting turns in their chairs, too. For the children, however, she’s had to be more adaptable, because dancers’ physical capabilities vary and not all of them know how to operate a wheelchair. For now, she focuses on building young students’ core strength during barre and center exercises. Beyond that, she says, “I’m still trying to decide what I’m going to do. But it seems to be really exciting for everyone who’s participated.”

Music
Allie Burke, courtesy Lo Cascio

If you'd hear it on the radio, you won't hear it in Anthony Lo Cascio's tap classes.

"If I play a song that my kids know, I'm kind of disappointed in myself," he says. "I either want to be on the cutting edge or playing the classics."

He finds that most of today's trendy tracks lack the depth needed for tap, and that there's a disconnect between kids and popular music. "They have trouble finding the beat compared to older genres," he says.

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Teachers Trending
Courtesy Lovely Leaps

After the birth of her daughter in 2018, engineer Lisa McCabe had reservations about returning to the workforce full-time. And while she wanted to stay home with the new baby, she wasn't ready to stop contributing financially to her family (after all, she'd had a successful career designing cables for government drones). So, when she got a call that September from an area preschool to lead its dance program, she saw an opportunity.

The invitation to teach wasn't completely out of the blue. McCabe had grown up dancing in Southern California and had a great reputation from serving as her church's dance teacher and team coach the previous three years (stopping only to take a break as a new mother). She agreed to teach ballet and jazz at the preschool on Fridays and from there created an age-appropriate class based on her own training in the Cecchetti and RAD methods. It was a success: In three months, class enrollment went from six to 24 students, and just one year later, McCabe's blossoming Lovely Leaps brand had contracts with eight preschools and three additional teachers.

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News
Courtesy Shake the Ground

Dance competitions were among the first events to be shut down when the COVID-19 pandemic exploded in the U.S. in mid-March, and they've been among the last able to restart.

So much of the traditional structure of the competition—large groups of dancers and parents from dozens of different studios; a new city every week—simply won't work in our new pandemic world.

How, then, have competitions been getting by, and what does the future look like?

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