Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Power of Dance

By Karen Green, Assistant Director, Fred Astaire Dance Studios New England Region

Recently, the Fred Astaire Dance Studios New England Regional Office received a heartwarming reminder of just how important our role can be. Rogelio Garcia, co-owner of the Mystic, Connecticut Fred Astaire Studio forwarded this e-mail to our office:

Dear Fred Astaire Friends,
On Friday, February 6, 2009, we had yet another wonderful experience at Fred Astaire Dance Studios. Our son, Sam (who has said he might be interested in dance lessons), accompanied us to our lesson with the wonderful Olga. After that we returned for the dance party and Sam danced with not only his mother, but also with Olga and Pam (another student).
As usual, everyone was so warm and welcoming. Sam has had a tough couple of years dealing with epilepsy and cerebral palsy and he has been very sad. Thanks to a new karate program and his interest in Fred Astaire, we are seeing a different young man right now who is full of enthusiasm.
Don will be coming in sometime this week to talk about signing Sam up for lessons. I just wanted to let you know how walking into Fred Astaire Studios last April (for the first time) has changed our lives in so many wonderful ways.
Sincerely, Mary Maranell

After reading the e-mail, I emailed Mary to let her know how touched and grateful we were for her kind words. Then, at the beginning of March, I had the pleasure of meeting Mary, her husband, Don and 16 year-old Sam himself at our New England Regional Competition. The fact that Sam was even there was a big deal his mom told me. He had attended a comp last year with them, but the music made him very uncomfortable due to his sensitivity to loud noises. As a result, he spent the remainder of that competition in his hotel room.

This year was a different story and while we were at the comp I had a few minutes to talk with Sam. I expected a conversation with a shy, withdrawn young man where I had to do most of the talking. Instead, Sam seemed confident, sociable and more than willing to talk about his dancing. He did start the conversation by coming right out and asking why I thought he was so interesting. “Well, your mom told me that dancing has made some positive changes in your life,” I told him. “We’d like to share that with other people if that’s OK with you.” Sam agreed that he is stronger and experiences less depression now that he is dancing. Sam, who also has a 2nd Degree Black Belt in Karate, talked about the similarities between his dancing and his karate lessons. Although, as Sam pointed out, there is one major difference. “Some people think dancing is for wimps,” he said. “I challenge anyone in my karate class to get out on the floor and waltz for a while and then tell me how their legs are feeling!” He’s even considering giving up some Karate time to spend more time dancing.

Sam’s newfound enthusiasm for dancing not only had him cheering in the ballroom with the rest of the spectators at this competition, but now he is enrolled in dance lessons with Olga at the Mystic studio. Even better, his mother noticed that he is definitely happier and more outgoing than before he started dancing. “Even his seizures seem more in control,” she reported. “We think the dancing has given him more endurance so he doesn’t get so fatigued.”

We stood on the edge of the dance floor as Sam did the Rumba with Olga during a general dance at the comp. “It’s like I’m looking at a different kid,” she said, smiling as she watched him. “He talks about goals for the future,” she continued, “and about wanting to be a physical therapist. He didn’t talk about that kind of stuff before dancing.”

Happy Dancing Sam! Thanks for sharing your story and for reminding us all of why we do what we do!

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