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Everyone dances at SC studio — even with wheelchairs


GREENWOOD, S.C. — Dance is who you are. It’s something studio owner Suzy Shaw stands by.

Shaw runs her 2022 All Stars program at Emerald City Dance Explosion. It is an all-inclusive dance program that any student — no matter what their need is — can participate in.

Students and their partners grooved across the dance floor in the jam-packed performance that was the culmination of six weeks of dancing.

This is the second such program the studio has put on, and was sponsored by Self Regional Healthcare, so no student paid to participate.

Shaw opened her studio 22 years ago, planning before she even had kids for it to be a place she’d want to send her own kids to.

She grew up in Columbia, where there was a big dance program in the schools.

Shaw’s brother, who enjoyed a two-decade professional dancing career, had a best friend with no arms and no legs who wanted to dance, and the teacher wrote him into their programs.

“From that, I knew that no matter what I ended up doing in this field, it would be completely all-inclusive,” Shaw said.

“Dance is a part of who you are. It’s who you are. It’s in your soul. Every one of us that have all the ability in the world could lose that ability in a moment. We’re never promised that tomorrow is going to be here, we’re never promised a perfect performance, but we are promised that this is part of you. It’s in your soul, it’s in your heart, it’s who you are. And no matter what it can’t be taken away from you.”

The program gives the opportunity to dance to those who wouldn’t otherwise have that opportunity.

“They’re proud of themselves and they should be,” Shaw said.

She said as a teacher, students in the All Stars program get what any other student does and that’s the opportunity to lose themselves in dance.

“It’s a world where everybody fits. It’s a world where everything’s good, everything’s OK, their expectation only is to be themselves and whatever that self is is right, it’s perfect,” Shaw said.

She said moms of kids in the program have come to her, too, and said “I didn’t think I’d ever be a dance mom.”

Leighann Butler is one of those dance moms. She has two daughters, Ella Kate and Paisleigh.

Paisleigh, who has Sanfilippo syndrome, participated in the All Stars program.

Butler said in the previous city they lived in, they took Paisleigh to a dance studio where she wasn’t engaged, and she wouldn’t even get out of the car the second time they went. So when the family moved back to Greenwood, they learned about All Stars and signed up.

“It was just so exciting to know that Paisleigh would have an opportunity to do something she normally would not have somewhere else,” Butler said.

She said her daughter, Ella Kate, lives for all things dance. She said she loves being a dance mom, and said when you have a kid with a terminal illness, you realize all the things you can’t do.

“And then you get the opportunity to do something you thought you wouldn’t be able to, it’s pretty special,” Butler said.

The program was directed by Emily Burch, who has a doctorate in physical therapy and works at Self, but is also on the dance studio’s faculty.

She said dance, movement, peer-to-peer interaction and music can enhance the social and physical development of those with special needs.

Burch said parents are often fearful of putting their children with special needs into a neurotypical classroom, “so we wanted to create a safe space for the kids and the dancers just as much as their families.”

There were no exclusions — assistive devices and wheelchairs and communication barriers didn’t prevent anyone from participating.

Lauren Abney’s daughter Kadence was one of the dancers who is also involved in regular dance classes. Kadence loves music and dance, her mom said.

“She loves the music and the movement I think overall. And it’s good social for her, you know, she’s able to find other friends that have disabilities as well, but yet they still are all so inclusive.”

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