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Parsons Dance takes hands-on approach

By: Amanda Karioth Thompson, COCA | January 23, 2019

Terrie Young has a playful personality, a sparkling smile and a love of the arts. An eighth-grader at Gretchen Everhart School, he uses a wheelchair to get from place to place but he also enjoys a more expressive type of movement.

“I love to dance,” he shared. “I dance anywhere. At my home and with my Mom and Dad. I have a drum and I dance to music like Michael Jackson.” Recently, Terrie and his classmates got an opportunity to explore dance with the help of some internationally renowned professionals. Brought to Tallahassee by Opening Nights at FSU, Parsons Dance has developed a world-wide reputation for its energized, athletic choreography. The company is also well-known for its commitment to inclusion and has developed targeted programming to ensure all audiences, regardless of ability, have the opportunity to connect with dance.

Along with a traditional performance for a Tallahassee audience, Parsons also provided a sensory friendly performance and two workshops for the community. Through the Opening Nights In Class program, Parsons worked with FAMU students training to become physical education teachers as well as the dance educators from Raa Middle School and Apalachee Tapestry Magnet School for the Arts.

The session focused on techniques for working with students who have special needs and different abilities.

Attendees were left with hands-on experiences and a supplemental packet of information to help them implement these strategies in their own classrooms. Calla MacNamara, education and engagement manager for Opening Nights, explained these workshops aren’t about universal rules. “These are guidelines so teachers can have an organic experience and adjust depending on their students.”

MacNamara is grateful for the generosity displayed by Parsons. “This is something they’ve put a lot of work into developing and sometimes, when people do that, they keep it close to the vest but Parsons wants to spread the goodness,” she said.

Emmalee Wood is appreciative too. Currently earning her master’s degree in music therapy from FSU, she was able to participate in the Parsons workshop held at Everhart, where she is an intern. The school serves students with intellectual disabilities and Wood has been working there since August with the resident music therapist, Brenda Rice.

“We do movement activities in the classroom,” Wood said “but nothing like what we did today. In fact, seeing this made me more confident with my own dance moves and made me think I can expand more on what we do in the classroom.” In her time at Everhart, Wood has gained a lot of experience and wisdom and shared “if there’s anything I’ve learned here, being immersed in this, it’s that we don’t need words to communicate. Dance is just another way for them to express themselves.”

That realization is exactly what Eoghan Dillon is hoping for. As the education coordinator with Parsons Dance, he takes his mission to heart. “We’re not only performers, we’re also making sure that everybody, whether they have special needs, a physical disability, or they’re on the autism spectrum, are included in this form of dance which we believe is universal.”

Read the rest of the story by visiting the Tallahassee Democrat

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