Making a difference with dance in Waukesha

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WAUKESHA, Wis. (CBS 58) -- A dance studio in Waukesha allows children with special needs to socialize, learn life skills and most importantly, feel included.

Inside the Liberty Dance Center, you'll find dozens of dancers moving to the beat of their own drum.

Mike Theisen's daughter Kate started the business in 2008 and it's grown exponentially since.

They teach an array of classes and adopted the Darby's Dancers program in 2017. The program was started by the parents of Darby Jones of Huntsville, Alabama. It's a nation-wide effort to provide opportunities for children with special needs to participate in the performing arts through dance education.

"We became the 20th chapter in the country and one of three chapters in Wisconsin it offers free weekly classes for children with special needs. We have children on the autism spectrum we have children with other difficulties we have wheelchair bound students we have one child that is legally blind that is in the program," said Theisen.

He says the program has flourished over the last few years. It started out with about five or six students, and they have more than 30 students today. Each dancer is assigned a big sister, someone like Alex Phipps or Cadence Eve who give up their Saturday moorings to make sure each child is enjoying themselves and feels included.

"I'm usually acting like if I were their actual big sister giving them fist bumps and making sure they are having fun," said Eve.

"With my experience I get to then lead some of the younger big sisters and I also get to help the students become leaders," said Phipps.

It's a program of leaders helping leaders. Lori Williams is one of them. She teaches the Darby's Dancers classes.

"I'm here every Saturday with the dancers leading class, choreographing the dances and having fun with them every week.," said Williams.

But both big sisters and instructors say there are challenges with every class.

"We have children with wheelchairs or walkers and different sensory needs. I must think about that too how can I do this differently for this class? How can I do this in a seated position or how can this music fit with this person's specific needs," said Williams.

"One of my dancers. she usually gets upset sometimes because she doesn't always want to do the dances so we just sit on the wall sometimes and she can watch them, and we talk about fun stuff and she likes to sing to me sometimes too," said Eve.

Its time spent observing and understanding from one another.

"They're learning responsibility and empathy to work with kids that don’t have the things that they have so that's been a valuable lesson as well.," explained Theisen.

With lessons learned and friendships made, these classes become more than just entertainment. They become opportunities for children to socialize.

"We have seen some of our dancers come in and buddy up with each other. We have a few students who will pair up every week," said Phipps.

"To see all the kids to come back together and see some kids like two peas in a pod and inseparable and they met here at the studio and it's really great to see those lifelong friendships," explained Williams.

For instructors, it's more than teaching inside the dance studio, for these lessons have proven to create growth outside the classroom.

"There have been studies showing that moving through dance can actually help children achieve everyday activities we have seen therapies doing the same type of steps like put on your socks put on your socks and a kid may have trouble with that at home but suddenly you put it to a rhythm and a beat and a song and suddenly they can put on their socks because they practiced in it dance class. So, its activating those different parts of the brain it's so exciting to see them making progress.   "

Making a difference one dance at a time. creating equal opportunity for all and allowing this dream to come full circle. If you're interested in signing up your child for free Darby's Dancers classes in Waukesha, call the Liberty Dance Center (262) 349-9698.

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