Wednesday, June 17, 2009

After ballroom dance lessons, students at autism school have fun-filled prom

From PR Newswire:

SHERMAN OAKS, Calif. -- For the students of The Help Group's Bridgeport School, prom night was an evening to remember -- filled with friendship, fun, music and dance. Students with autism spectrum disorders and other special needs lit up the dance floor with energy, excitement and confidence.

In preparation for the prom, Bridgeport's social skills curriculum included prom etiquette as well as a series of weekly ballroom dancing classes funded by the Parent Association.

Pamela Clark, Director, The Help Group's Autism Schools said, "We're thrilled to include the ballroom dancing in our music and arts programs at Bridgeport. The student's response has been wonderful -- this dance instruction has given them another avenue for self expression and social interaction."

Spirited instructors from Arthur Murray Dance Studio, Woodland Hills, Ca. and Bridgeport faculty, helped students learn the steps, move to the beat and navigate the social world of dance.

Studio owner, Robert Melgoza, shared, "It's important to look at dance as a conversation -- it's an invitation and a response, and the students of The Help Group responded so well to our instruction, to the music and to the movement of dance."

As an avid dance enthusiast, Janice Betts, Principal of Bridgeport School wanted to introduce her students to the physicality and camaraderie of dance. "My philosophy is that learning should be fun, and for students with special needs, dance is a different way to provide a social curriculum. It may spark a new interest and open another window to learning."

Dr. Sara McCracken, Director, The Help Group Autism Spectrum Disorders Programs notes that the benefits of dance for children with autism spectrum disorders are broad, "In addition to learning the steps and keeping the beat, dance involves learning appropriate physical boundaries, social dance position, proper posture and the social rules of dance. It's a dynamic interaction that requires making eye contact, integrating sensory input, coordinating movement, and the ability to relate to others."

Innovative new autism research focuses on the role that music can play in unlocking children's potential for self-expression, creativity and sociability. Under the auspices of The Help Group -- UCLA Autism Research Alliance, Dr. Istvan Molnar-Szakacs, a member of the Alliance and neuroscientist at UCLA's Semel Institute, is currently conducting a study funded by the Grammy Foundation, exploring the relationship between music and the ability of children with autism to identify emotions. In a second study funded by NAMM, he will explore the impact of music education on children with autism. "We know that music is a unique gateway into human emotions," says Molnar-Szakacs. "Music and dance can be useful educational tools to help students acquire social skills and further develop awareness of self and others."

More than 80 students enthusiastically took part in prom night -- themed as a "Hollywood Premiere." Dressed in their finest to celebrate this magical evening, students walked down the red carpet to shining spot lights and lively music with rhythms ranging from rumba to salsa. "Prom was fun," said student Andre. "I danced all night -- now that I know the moves. Dancing allows me to express myself and it makes me feel so good. I feel like nothing can stop me while I listen to the music."

Corde, a graduating senior, expressed a sentiment that captured how many of the students felt about their dance lessons leading up to the prom, "Dancing is fun -- it's energizing. Every time I dance I feel a sudden explosion of energy and it makes me feel alive."