Cicero native Lauren Calcagnino recently found a way to blend her two life passions—dance and working with children with disabilities—by offering a new type of class at Rae’s Institute of Dance and Movement in Brewerton. The program, called Adaptive Dance, and created specifically for children with disabilities, is less than two months old and open to children ages 5 to 18 of all ability levels.
Calcagnino is a local speech-language pathologist who has been dancing since age 2. When she began to explore adaptive dance options in the Syracuse area, she found there were not many available, which surprised her. She approached Rachel Mason, owner of Rae’s.
“She very much welcomed the idea, and (so) I began exploring how to best implement it at the studio,” Calcagnino says. “I began researching trainings throughout the United States to attend, to ensure I went about it in the best way possible. And I stumbled upon one at the Boston Ballet. It happened to be during the summer and I felt it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
The two-day session focused on several topics: developmental and motor disabilities, such as Down syndrome and autism spectrum disorder; how Boston Ballet structures its adaptive classes; and use of supports and props, including chairs, visual schedules and fidgets. Calcagnino also gathered resources for potential implementation into her own classes, such as music and warm-up ideas, and techniques for adapting movement for students with various disabilities and differences.
Ultimately, Calcagnino took away the fundamentals: Her classes are similar in structure to Boston Ballet’s, but she also made changes to reflect the local needs.
“This program (is) geared toward the students who sign up. I want to meet them at the level they’re at and include their interests in any way I can,” Calcagnino says. “I expect to change things with every class from here on out, too, to make sure the students are successful and enjoying the class.”
Adaptive Dance is held on Saturday mornings and is split into two 45-minute class times. The 10:30 a.m. session is for children ages 5 to 12; the second class, at 11:30 a.m., is for 13- to 18-year-olds. Classes are designed for kids who are not able to take typical dance classes, and Calcagnino focuses on enhancing each student’s confidence, teamwork, listening and memory skills, and on building their dance knowledge, rhythm and stretching abilities.
The program began in late September and will run through June, with two in-house performances per year—one in December and one in June—at the black-box theater in Rae’s Institute of Dance and Movement’s new studio at 8860 Brewerton Road in Brewerton.
“We like to keep the classes smaller in size to allow for enough support and supervision for those who need it,” Calcagnino says. Class size is capped at around 10, and additional teachers will be present for support.
Children are also welcome to check out the class before signing up to get a feel for it and decide whether it’s something they’d want to continue. Calcagnino will accept student sign-ups at any point if there is still room and if there is a reasonable amount of time left before the performances.
“I simply want to give (children with disabilities) the opportunity to do (dance) in a supportive and comfortable environment where they can grow at their own pace,” Calcagnino says.