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North Hills Monthly

Dance that Adapts to Disabilities offered at Evolve Dance Studio

Dec 01, 2016 07:41AM ● By Clare Heekin Lynch

Cara Alvarez with student

At first glance, the young kids practicing on a Saturday morning at Cranberry’s Evolve Dance Complex just seem to be having fun. But a closer look shows a deeper story. 

“These students have varying intellectual, physical, and learning abilities,” said dance instructor Cara Alvarez of the special-needs students in the studio’s adaptive dance class. 

Evolve Dance Complex recently put their mission of “Dance. Dream. Work. Grow. Evolve.” into action through the launch of a new adaptive class called MyMovement. 

“At Evolve, we believe that every child should have the opportunity to dance,” said owner Jennifer Sebes. “This program gives children with special needs the chance to experience the thrill of creative movement through the art of dance.”

The results have been powerful for the children who, by engaging in dance and music, learn how to follow directions, focus, balance, and develop a concept of music and rhythm, as well as how to work well with others. 

“The development of these physical, cognitive and social-emotional skills are critical for any child, but even more so for kids with challenges because they typically do physical therapy in schools or in a hospital setting,” Sebes said. “They’re constantly being assessed, so my goal in offering this class was to enable these children to have less anxiety by just letting loose and being themselves.”

The program began to evolve when Sebes had a student whose brother, Jordan, would visit during her lessons. “Jordan was on the autism spectrum and could not verbalize, but we noticed that when he watched his sister dance, the music seemed to comfort him,” said Sebes. “He would sway back and forth—there was something about the movement and music that you could tell soothed his soul.” 

Slippery Rock University graduate student Cara Alvarez was completing her academic journey and learned of Sebes’ aspirations through the dance world grapevine. “I reached out to Jen and we immediately hit it off,” she said. 

Sebes agreed. “I was drawn to Cara because of her gentle but driven spirit to teach. She’s great with the dancers and she comes to every class with individualized lesson plans so that she can better connect with them.”

Dance has been a lifelong passion for Alvarez, but while pursuing it at the collegiate level she realized that something was missing from her life. “I didn’t feel complete in my studies,” she said. “My counselor suggested that I research the school’s adaptive physical activity program, and it all just clicked for me. This specialized focus allows me to work with children in order to not only improve their motor skills, flexibility, and coordination, but to enhance their confidence in a group setting as well.”

“My class is about what the child can do, and I tailor my class to their individual levels and abilities,” she added. 

Alvarez teaches a skill at the beginning of the class and then allows the children to interpret it through ‘free dance’ time at the end. “When they dance, I learn more about them and how they move,” she said. “I want to show them that they can dance and that they can be creative. Every improvement they make, no matter how small, I get to celebrate with them. This truly makes me happy and makes me feel like my life has a purpose.”

Evolve’s adaptive class meets Saturday mornings from 10-10:45 a.m. To learn more, contact Sebes or Alvarez at 724-591-8512 or visit