Community

YMCA's all-inclusive Dance for All engages families with special needs


Courtesy of Teresa Maldonado Marchok
Students in the Dance for All program work out during a recent class at the El Camino YMCA.

The El Camino YMCA’s Dance for All program offers a space for young and old alike to experience the joy of movement to music with no judgment, no criticism and no fear.

The all-inclusive classes encourage parents to dance with their children with special needs alongside kids labeled “normal.” All levels learn at their own pace and are given the freedom to express themselves with no preconceived ideas of perfection.

In 2014, Teresa Maldonado Marchok and Mercy Forde, both fitness instructors, teamed up to create Dance for All, which aims to make all participants feel welcome, included and safe.

As fitness enthusiasts, Maldonado Marchok and Forde know firsthand how important physical activity is for all ages. And as mothers to special-needs children, it was difficult to find classes for their kids with challenges that were not separate from the community. Their children, like all kids, are brimming with equal capability – all they needed was an opportunity to participate. That’s when they came up with Dance for All.

Dance for All is run like other fitness classes, with Maldonado Marchok and Forde demonstrating and instructing a variety of movements and techniques designed to develop and improve core strength, flexibility and balance. Students not only learn current dance moves in rhythm with the latest music, but there’s also Pilates mat work and a closing meditation that invites all to center themselves before leaving the studio.

Participants are encouraged to interpret the moves as the music flows. Although they might not all be synchronized, they are united in spirit and fun.

Connecting through movement

Dance for All’s mission is “Connecting the Community through Movement,” and the program gives special-needs participants the tools to conduct themselves in a movement class, thus enabling integration into other classes and providing a sense of belonging. The instructors also create a fun environment for fitness enthusiasts to learn more about and interact with special-needs kids. Despite initial perceived differences in thought process and language, students typically begin to see that each member of the class has dreams and desires, just like anyone.

As Dance for All celebrates its fifth anniversary, what started as a dream has morphed into a weekly event and a studio packed with participants.

Whether dancers come alone or with their children, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Maldonado Marchok and Forde. Margie Pfister, who attends class with her adult daughter, Ellen, praised their experi- ence.

“Amidst the ups and downs of our days, Dance for All has been a positive, welcoming spot, from the moment we enter the class and are greeted by name,” Pfister said. “Through the warm-ups, dance and cool-down, my daughter and I are inspired to be our best as we encourage others to do as well. With the positive music, and Teresa’s and Mercy’s kind encouragement, we not only feel a sense of belonging, but our posture has improved in our daily activities. By the end of class, we feel a sense of accomplishment, have met new friends, and this world feels like a better place, and we feel better in it.”

Dance for All classes are scheduled 1-2 p.m. Saturdays at the El Camino YMCA, 2400 Grant Road, Mountain View. An anniversary party is set for 4-6 p.m. Saturday. Admission is open to all.

For more information, visit ymcasv.org and search for “Dance for All.”

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