Passion, compassion — and sparkly hats: RHS students teach dance to special-needs adults

Student Maria Breeden, 23, from left, practices stretching moves with instructors Malori Chrisman, 16, and Bella Duffett, 18, at a dance class for special-needs adults. The teens started the class at Shapes Dance & Acro Studio as part of a Richmond High School assignment, then decided to keep it going because it was so popular with the students. (Photo by Joy Tipping/Richmond News)

By Joy Tipping/Richmond News Managing Editor

Three women, all in their 20s, and two teen girls lay in a circle on the floor, feet facing in. The teens call out instructions as they “make a cake,” then a pizza, then ice cream, using their hands, feet, arms, legs — every part of their bodies — to mimic, for instance, putting on the cake’s icing, lighting the candles, slicing it and eating it.

Next they do “across the floor” exercises, marching, stomping and kicking their way across the studio at Shapes Dance & Acro in Richmond.

At first glance, this might seem like just another dance class. But on closer inspection, it’s clear that something extraordinary is going on here — when 18-year-old Bella Duffett protectively holds 23-year-old Cara Jones’ arm as Jones makes her way across the floor, or when 16-year-old Malori Chrisman patiently re-explains a step that would seem simple for most adults.

But these aren’t most adults — these are special-needs adults with both physical and mental disabilities. The three women — Jones, who lives in Richmond; 26-year-old Carolyn Brown of Lawrence, Kan.; and 23-year-old Maria Breeden of Lexington — are usually joined by one other student, a high-school boy.

Duffett and Chrisman, who both teach dance at Shapes, started the monthly dance class as a project for an RHS leadership class.

The complete version of this story appears in the Friday, June 8, 2018, edition of The Richmond News.

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