By Cassie Bonstrom, WCCO-TV
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In a small studio in Minneapolis, Leah Nelson is helping her students master a bourrée turn. But really, she’s teaching them much more than ballet moves. She’s teaching the girls, who all use power wheelchairs, that they can be dancers.
“I like to move to the music,” said Mary Kate Bigelow of Rosemount. “It’s always been my dream.”
The girls taking one of the classes at Young Dance have various types of a neuromuscular disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy, or SMA. Their cognitive skills are unaffected, but their muscles are weak and their bodies fragile.
For many of them, it’s their first formal dance class. And while they can’t dance on their feet, they can use their power chairs to do the same moves.
“What is dance? Dance is creativity, dance is inspiration, dance is movement — and they can move,” said Leah Nelson, the class instructor. “They just move differently than I do.”
Andrea Doebbert says the class has given her 7-year-old daughter, Sophia, an element of independence.
“She is totally immersed in it,” says Doebbert. “She sort of tunes out the rest of the world and this becomes … her universe.”
For all the girls, it becomes a universe focused not on their limitations, but entirely on their potential.
“There is so much these kids have inside them,” says Donna Bigelow, Mary Kate’s mother. “They were born into a body that is limited, but it doesn’t have to limit what they become.”
Doebbert added, “She has opened up new horizons for them in terms of what they can do, and how they can express themselves. And it’s just been phenomenal.”
Young Dance recently received an $8,000 grant from the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation. If you’re interested in learning more about their adaptive dance program, visit their website.