Thursday, November 11, 2010

New York Performing Arts Center program offers adaptive dance to disabled children

From Patch Rye, N.Y.:

Little girls in pink tutus practiced tiptoeing during a class at the New York Performing Arts Center in White Plains Nov. 6. They were like any other little girls—the only difference is they have special needs, like Down syndrome.

The New York Performing Arts Center at 196 Maple Ave. opened in May 2009, and since January the center has offered adaptive dance classes to children with special needs.

"We wanted to offer something special to the community that wasn't out there," said Annamarie Mastroberardino, a co-founder of the studio. "It's something really important to our studio."

Ardsley mom Sharon Fanelli, whose daughter Emily, 4, has Down syndrome, reached out to other parents, encouraging them to join the class.

Mastrobernadino did some research and found that the Boston Ballet offered an adaptive dance class, so she used that as a jumping off point.

Dance instructor Jennifer Silverman, 30, was thrilled when she heard the idea. Her 31-year-old brother-in-law has Down syndrome. She said she always wanted to volunteer at some of his programs but found that adult programs are "already pretty set."

"When this came along along it was something I wanted to jump into with both feet," said Silverman, a Port Chester resident.

The center offers two Saturday classes for kids, one for 3- to 6-year-olds and another for 7- to 12-year-olds. The studio recently began an adaptive dance class for adults on Thursday evenings.

Because the program is so unique, Silverman has been able to make it her own, developing it with the help of physical therapists and her own research into child development. High school students Emily Bonokum, 16, and Mastroberardino's daughter Hallie, 14, volunteer with the classes every weekend.

The class focuses on balance, coordination, posture, building strength, as well as listening and social skills.

"Through working with any children you learn what their special challenges are," Silverman said. "It's so cool to see them change from class to class."

Parents agreed that their children have grown enormously since joining the class.

"It's a great social outlet for these kids," Fanelli said.

"Any type of performance helps build self-esteem, especially in shy children," said Mastroberardino, who has a theater background.

Both adaptive dance classes participated in the center's June recital.

"They stole the recital," Mastroberardino said. "I saw the routine so many times, but just to see them up there, I cried."

Fanelli said that she wants Emily to have the same experiences as her brother Ryan, 6, and other normally developing children do.

"You can't block them from the rest of the world. You have to integrate them as much as possible," Fanelli said.

She added that having a child with a disability is "not for the faint of heart" and families have to lean on each other to provide support and information.

"We have to stick together," Fanelli said.

Mary Costello-Lazare's 6-year-old daughter, Anna, who also takes the adaptive dance gave it, and her instructor "Miss Jen," a thumbs-up.

"Oh yeah, I love her," Anna said.

Pleasantville resident Costello-Lazare and her husband run an organization called Anna's Amigos, which raises funds for Down syndrome research. They hold an annual fundraising event, Romp for Research, which has raised nearly $1 million in the past five years. Visit for more information.

The New York Performing Arts Center also offers a wide range of classes in theater, dance, and for beginners to advanced students who want to make dance their profession.