By Bailey Lucero-Carter
The Gainesville Ballet Company is making exciting progress just in time for its 10th anniversary in the 2014-15 season with the launch of a new dance program for children with special needs.
The Special Needs Dance program is inspired by children with special needs who are already members of the dance academy. The managing director and owner of the Gainesville Ballet Company Elysabeth Muscat says she was encouraged by a current student and her family to make the program come to life. “She’s been doing very well in the regular class, but [her mother] thought a lot of families would appreciate a class dedicated to them.”
The ballet instructor for the Special Needs Dance class is Onica Hobbs, who has been teaching dance at the Gainesville Ballet Company since 2011. She expresses nothing but excitement for the new program.
“Since Elysabeth Muscat has come in, she was very eager to start this program. And when she asked me if I was interested, I just jumped at the opportunity. I’m really looking forward to being able to share what I love so much with a broader audience and individuals that might not have had this opportunity somewhere else.”
Both Hobbs and Muscat said they hope that the Special Needs Dance sessions will encourage children to embrace dance in a safe and comfortable setting.
“It’s supposed to be an enjoyable and helpful experience for children with special needs to learn about dance, to improve their motor skills in a non-judgmental, non-pressure environment,” says Muscat.
“Many parents aren’t so forthcoming,” Hobbs explains, “because they want their child to be treated as any other child in that environment and they’re fearful that might not happen. But this new class gives children the opportunity to have that individualized attention and that differentiated teaching method to really allow them to blossom.”
This new class is for younger children and will admit a maximum of 10 students, allowing Hobbs and her assistant to work with students on a personal level. Added features for this class include visual posters, timers, possible group work and a patient pace. Nevertheless, the program is a ballet class in every sense.
“It’s going to be adapted to their needs, but they’re coming here to learn ballet and I want to be able to teach them that.” Hobbs says.
This year, Muscat launches the pilot program. It is just one of the many advancements she is making to the Gainesville Ballet Company since she purchased the school in March 2013. In addition to the Special Needs Dance program, the Gainesville Ballet Company has recently achieved nonprofit status, which guarantees the company’s ability to perform at the Hylton Performing Arts Center. Nonprofit status will also help support the organization’s funding, thus encouraging continued improvement of the company as a whole.
The Gainesville Ballet Company has grown since its founding in 2005, when it first performed in high school theaters. Now, approaching the 10th anniversary, the ballet company holds performances in a university theater, invites numerous professional and international dancers and launches a new dance program.
The Special Needs Dance program begins this Wednesday, Sept. 10, and will be held for six weeks. In addition, Saturday sessions will be offered in the near future. For more information and inquiries about the program, contact Elysabeth Muscat at the Gainesville Ballet Company.