A ballet studio in Springboro is giving children with disabilities a chance they might not otherwise have. DancingUnlimited is a dance program geared towards children with physical challenges. It’s put on by Pontecorvo Ballet Studios and Gem City Ballet.
“To me, ballet does everything for a young person,” says PBS and GCB Director Barbara Pontecorvo. “Not only does it instill discipline but also posture. It teaches you how to move gracefully but with power, with strength.”
She first started DancingUnlimited in 1998 in which children work with pre-professional dancers. A physical therapist is also present in classes and rehearsals.
“We do a lot of stretching. We do a lot of motor skills – running and jumping and having a lot of fun with props,” says Pontecorvo.
The only cost associated with DancingUnlimited is time and dedication.
“It’s completely free. They pay for nothing. They don’t pay for their costumes. They don’t pay for classes. They don’t pay for rehearsal,” says Pontecorvo.
With the footwork and spark of teacher and choreographer Shelly Goodman, she creates a class focused on music and movement.
“Shelly is highly imaginative and works very, very well with children,” says Pontecorvo. “She’s really quite wonderful with children, so they immediately gravitate towards her, and she makes them feel safe and comfortable.”
“I’m always trying to think ‘okay what can I get them to do,’ and then they inspire me,” says Goodman. “Their hearts are so full and you can see the passion for dance that they have.”
Every week, dancers Maggie and Charlie Monnin build on their skills in ballet class followed by a rehearsal. They first heard about DancingUnlimited from their physical therapist at Dayton Children’s Hospital.
“I feel amazing that I can do it,” says seven-year-old Maggie Monnin.
“It’s just great to see them be able to perform and have this opportunity to do ballet,” beams their mom Nora Monnin. “They’re so proud. They’re so hard-working. And they’re determined, and they feel like there’s nothing that they can’t do.”
The two sisters have spinal muscular atrophy, which is a form of muscular dystrophy with weakened muscles in their legs and core. It’s a degenerative disease caused by a gene mutation that doesn’t produce a protein.
Dancing serves as a hobby as well as a form of therapy for them.
“They don’t see themselves limited in any way,” says their mom. “They do everything that everyone else can do. They just find their own way to do it.”
For a couple hours every week, the class provides an escape from reality to a world in motion for children of all abilities.
“To me it just is the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done,” says Goodman. “It just fills my heart because I think here are these kids that maybe never would have experienced dance and here they’re in this safe environment. They’re enjoying it. They’re loving it. And I’m loving it.”