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Ain’t No Mountain High Enough:: Developmentally Disabled Dancers to Perform Sunday

Kathy Cass’ students, all of them dancers with disabilities, will perform their self-choreographed pieces at the 6th annual Chance To Dance Unrecital on Sunday, May 22.

Developmentally disabled teens and adults will express individual, collective and structured improvisational works in a recital at McKinley Elementary School in Santa Monica at 1:30 p.m.

For Cass, a registered dance therapist, the Unrecital marks the end of another successful and fulfilling season. “I started Chance to Dance with just six dancers, and now we are growing so much that we’ve outgrown our [performance] space.” This is the first year that the Unrecital will be held in a big school auditorium rather than a small dance studio.

Cass and her co-teacher, Mary Pringle, offer classes to developmentally disabled teenagers and adults through the City of Santa Monica’s Department of Therapeutics’ Westside Special Olympics program, to disabled teens in a Hawthorne after-school program, and in some Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Special Education classrooms. They also teach healthy senior citizens at a Santa Monica senior center, and occasionally work with cancer patients and people living with Alzheimer’s disease.

Twenty-five dancers – with a variety of abilities and skill levels – are set to perform on Sunday.

For the dancers, the informal performance and celebration is the culmination of a year’s worth of work in two separate classes: Chance to Dance, a creative therapeutic dance class, and the Choreography and Production workshop. Both classes are offered in cooperation with the City, and the McKinley Elementary PTA and Special Education programs.

A “warm-up” of sorts will be performed by elementary-aged Mckinley Special Education students, who have been working with Cass on two group dances: “Shake Your Sillies Out” and “The Hokey Pokey.”

“This is the first time I’ve included the little ones,” says Cass, who isn’t sure how the young dancers will respond to performing in front of an audience. “We’ll just treat it as a workshop, and a way to get the audience involved, and we’ll have some fun.”

Besides being a lot of fun to sing and dance to, Cass chose the songs for therapeutic reasons. “They both use movements that isolate body parts, which is important [for the kids to learn], and the Hokey-Pokey is very normalizing.” What does she mean by normalizing? “I tell my students, ‘Everyone does the Hokey-Pokey! They dance the Hokey-Pokey at weddings, bar-mitzvahs and birthday parties.’” In other words, it gives the children another way to fit in – to participate in the social life that they are so often left out of otherwise.

Although the performance and celebration are free, a $10 tax-deductible donation is encouraged. Donations help pay for scholarships, music, props and the development of new programs.

But what Cass and her students really need is, as she puts it, “a dance home where we can offer classes without [fear of] being bumped.” As of now, Cass and Pringle rely on City community rooms (usually at local parks) for studio space, but are often pushed off the schedule by competing meetings, sports activities or other events. “What these students especially need is consistency, and I would love to be able to provide them with that,” Cass explains.

Since part of the stated mission of Chance to Dance is to provide dance classes to those who would otherwise not have access to them, Cass has set her sights on securing a permanent studio – whether it be through a community partnership or local sponsorship, a grant honored, or some other form of support – she believes it can and will happen.

The Chance to Dance brochure states that it’s a “non-profit dance organization, providing a variety of dance opportunities in a supportive environment to people from all walks of life,” adding, “Many people benefit from the joy, camaraderie, self-expression, stress reduction and intrinsic value that creative movement can provide.” But Cass says it so much better, when she cuts straight to the point: “We just have so much fun. The dancers, you’ll see, they are so inspiring. They work so hard in class… then they go home, they listen to the music and they rehearse… They love to dance, and it’s their own work. It’s just wonderful!”McKinley Elementary School is located at 2401 Santa Monica Boulevard. For more information about Chance to Dance or the Unrecital, call (310) 358-3354.

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