ECU dance program aims to change lives of children with disabilities

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – DanceAbility is an international program that is changing the lives of children with cognitive or physical disabilities in eastern North Carolina.

“Some of our children — when they started our dance class — they were kind of closed off, and they wouldn’t really open up and move,” said Jennifer Parks Rezeli, a dance instructor with ECU DanceAbility. “We’d say do a big circle, and they would give us this. After some time and practice and support, they are now able to completely open and stretch. They’re standing taller. Their balance has improved. Their social skills are really developing in the class, especially because it is an inclusive program.”

Building skills in a dance class may be a simple concept, but organizers at East Carolina University hope the lessons go further.

“We would like for these children to go beyond what is expected and to be able to really surprise people with their creativity as well as the talent they show,” said Boni Boswell, the program’s co-director.

Participants in the class said they not only learn new moves but make friends in the process.

“It’s such a fun class,” said Charlie Kemble, 7.

“They’re very nice, and I learn a lot of cool moves,” said Olivia Murray, 15.

Others said they love dancing and appreciate the opportunity to keep moving with the special class.

“I’m a little rusty, but I’m getting there!” said Christina Lee Woodruff, 16.

Rezeli said the classes and recitals provide opportunities that were not available in Greenville before.

This access has opened doors and changed lives.

“We’ve had parents come up to us after the show and say, ‘The doctor told me my child was never going to walk and now look: They’re up there dancing!’” Rezeli said. “(It provides) the opportunity for them to get on stage, wear a tutu, dress up. The little boys wear bow ties and being able to (be) performing, it just brings tears their eyes. It’s a wonderful experience.”

To learn more about ECU Danceability, click here.

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