Easterseals: Children gain confidence, camaraderie at 'Chance to Dance'

A. Kevin Corvo
ThisWeek group

CORRECTION: Audrey Anderson has what's called PURA syndrome. An earlier version of this story described the wrong medical term.

Legendary jazz composer and trumpeter Louis Armstrong once said music is life itself. 

Special-needs children enrolled in Julie Chafin’s Chance to Dance class every other week in Hilliard epitomize that sentiment.  

Nine-year-old Audrey Anderson of Hilliard was among the five children gathered on a recent Monday evening at Easterseals Central and Southeast Ohio, 3830 Trueman Court. 

“(Audrey) loves music (and) is a natural performer,” said her mother, Sarah Bloom-Anderson. 

Kate McKnight, 6, laughs as Sarah Bloom Anderson, her daughter Audrey Anderson, 9, assistant instructor Molly O'Leary, 10, and others shake the parachute during Chance to Dance class April 5. The class has been online for the past year and recently began having in-person classes again. According to the Easterseals website, the class gives children with special needs an opportunity to dance and "appreciate the art of movement through rhythmic ability and to use various music as well as imaginative play."

Audrey has what's called PURA syndrome and is noncommunicative but for some sounds and expressions.

PURA syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by mild to moderate developmental delay, moderate to severe intellectual disability, seizures and seizure-like movements, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“She loves hearing the applause (and) blossoms on a stage, waving to the crowd and smiling,” Bloom-Anderson said. “It is a joy in her life.” 

Chafin, 51, of Ashville has taught dance for 20 years and founded Chance to Dance 10 years ago after witnessing special-needs children perform as part of a cheerleading contest in which her daughter, Ally, had been competing. 

“I cried,” Chafin said. “I wanted to do the same thing (as the special-needs cheerleading team), but for dancing. … Everyone deserves a chance, and I wanted to give them a chance to dance, too.” 

Chafin began by reaching out to families she knew with special-needs children; Chance to Dance grew from there. 

Audrey Anderson, 9, dances with the parachute during the Chance to Dance class at Easterseals on April 5. The class has been online for the past year and recently began having in-person classes again. According to the Easterseals website, the class gives children with special needs an opportunity to dance and "appreciate the art of movement through rhythmic ability and to use various music as well as imaginative play."

Chafin taught Chance to Dance classes at several locations in Pickaway County and currently offers them at two sites: the Circleville Presbyterian Church and Easterseals Central and Southeast Ohio. 

Chafin began teaching the free class at the Easterseals location in Hilliard three years ago, after CEO Pandora Dupras asked her to do so. The program at Easterseals also is supported by the Country Club at Muirfield Village Foundation

Dupras said she learned of the program at a dance recital her nieces had been participating in that included Chance to Dance students. 

“It was inspiring to see,” she said. “Children with disabilities have dreams, too.” 

Twice a month, Chafin drives nearly an hour from her home to Hilliard to lead the classes. Chance to Dance is offered in Hilliard every other Monday and includes two recitals at the conclusion of each nine-class session. 

Giovanni Napolitano, 1, laughs as classmates, parents and instructors shake the parachute during Chance to Dance class April 5. The class has been online for the past year and recently began having in-person classes again. According to the Easterseals website, the class gives children with special needs an opportunity to dance and "appreciate the art of movement through rhythmic ability and to use various music as well as imaginative play."

“I want the kids involved to realize they can do things they once thought they couldn’t do, to be brave and to get self-confidence in front of people,” Chafin said. 

Easterseals offers Chance to Dance free of charge and provides costumes.

Dupras said Easterseals picks up the tab because special-needs families incur many other costs, so this is a way to ensure they don’t miss such opportunities because of financial reasons. 

Chafin does the same for the Chance to Dance students at the class she offers in Circleville, paying for costumes with registration fees from her other classes.

“The children are so excited when they get the costumes,” she said. 

Lindsay McKnight of Lockbourne described her daughter, Kate, as “a very caring girl” who has an intellectual disability and is in her first year in the class.

She said Kate, 6, is beginning to build more friendships at church, thanks to the confidence she has gained from Chance to Dance. 

“It has given her greater confidence,” McKnight said. 

Monroe Cass, 6, of Blacklick is participating in the program for the second year.

Her mother, Jessica Cass, said she learned about the program at Monroe’s school, an Early Childhood Learning Center. 

This year, Cass said, her daughter, diagnosed with microcephaly, is more engaged and is taking direction better than last year, as her self-confidence continues to grow. 

Microcephaly is a condition where a baby’s head is much smaller than expected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It’s great because every other week, she has something to look forward to,” Cass said. 

Chance to Dance has benefited 12-year-old Ruby Rawlins as much as her family, said her father, Jeff Rawlins, of Orient. Ruby, who has cerebral palsy – a group of disorders that affect a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture – has participated in Chance to Dance since its inception.  

"That experience (and) the confidence it gave her is priceless to her and to us as a family," said Rawlins, who is president of the Pickaway County Board of Developmental Disabilities. 

For information about Chance to Dance or to register for classes, go to easterseals.com/centralohio or call 614-228-5523. 

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo