Dance speaks in CSMA's Artistic Intelligence autism program

Giancarlo, a student from the Morgan Autism Center, flies through a dance challenge at the Community School of Music and Arts’ Artistic Intelligence program. Teacher Ehud Krauss pairs movement, rhythm and beat with game play and group sequences. Eliza Ridgeway/ town Crier

Tucked away in the northernmost corner of Mountain View, the Community School of Music and Arts offers community classes and concerts, but its reach stretches beyond violin lessons and holiday performances.

For developmentally disabled students, CSMA’s Artistic Intelligence classes offer a window of the mind, as movement, music and art unlock expression in new ways.

Students from AchieveKids and the Morgan Autism Center were dancing at CSMA on a recent Tuesday morning, stretching and then popping up to snap and lean to a Michael Jackson song. The King of Pop in fact ruled the airwaves for much of the morning, as young people practiced rhythms and repeated movements, bouncing to the beat as they learned new sequences. Two Los Altos residents were among the students who played games as they danced, tossing balls, skipping over jump ropes and spinning rings in the air.

“I try to challenge them, not just to a dance routine,” teacher Ehud Krauss explained. “I throw something to see how they react – if they react, wonderful, if not, we change it.”

He said that building choreography and a curriculum for students with autism makes him a more thoughtful teacher, and that at the semester-end show, parents are sometimes stunned to see their children move in a way they never had at home.

“It takes a lot of love and vision,” Krauss said. “Music, dance and autism – they all go together. It’s amazing what the kids can do if you just encourage and support them.”

CSMA collaborates with three area social-service agencies to bring classes in music, dance and visual arts to more than 70 teens and young adults with autism and developmental and physical challenges. With help from donors like the Town Crier Holiday Fund, CSMA subsidizes the classes.

Children with autism can struggle with social interaction and communication, and CSMA’s courses provide an opportunity to practice social and creative skills outside a traditional curriculum.

“Disability can close you down – (in class), they get to open up and move across the floor,” Krauss said.

CSMA Art School Director Linda Covello described the students’ acts of art as “their voice, sometimes – taking them out of themselves and giving them a means of expressing.”

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