As Claire Alrich mimes scooping up a large ball from the ground,
lifting it high above her head and blowing it to massive
proportions, her class follows along. Seven children with varying
special needs, assisted by students from the Evanston Dance Center,
lift and inflate their own imaginary beach balls.
They're not playing Simon Says. They're learning the plié-a
These are students in Jump for Joy, a dance class sponsored by
the Evanston Dance Ensemble and featuring dance classes for
children with special needs. Taught entirely by ensemble
students-including Alrich, a senior at Evanston High School-the
program offers free physical exercise and dance education to
children who, organizers say, might be lost in an ordinary
"For some of these kids, they don't have the opportunity to take
a dance class," Alrich explains. "For me, that's a huge part of my
life, so just giving them a chance to dance is really important.
Dance can really help you in life-it builds confidence."
Now in its third year, the program is catching fire and
expanding. It has now been split into two age-appropriate classes
to accommodate high demand: twice as many registrations as last
year. And as part of its growing appeal to boys, it has switched
from its previous name, Twinkle Toes, to the current Jump for
The new name says it all, says Paula Sjogerman, company manager
of EDE. "I think 'joy' is the most operative word for the program.
It's so joyous. Everyone's operating out of this place of
Joy is indeed on the faces of the kids as they scamper about the
studio. They hold hands in a line and perform ballet steps to a
song, "We've Got the Whole World in Our Hands." One girl is
reluctant, so Alrich picks her up and whirls her around the room.
Later, they'll all dare a flying leap across the Rainbow River-a
tie-dye cloth laid out on the floor.
This Sunday morning is their final performance and parents are
here to watch what their sons and daughters have learned. Thomas
Jankowski loves what he sees. Jankowski has two kids in the class:
son Tommy, 11, who has cerebral palsy and hearing difficulties, and
daughter Jean, 9, who has Down syndrome and is partially
"(Jump for Joy) has given them an opportunity to exercise and
move in areas in a way that they usually don't, with their legs and
positioning," Jankowski says.
Jenny Higgins, the adult advisor for Jump for Joy, stresses that
the class is not medical therapy. "It's meant to be more fun and
And in that, Sjogerman says, the program is clearly succeeding.
"You just have to look at their faces."
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