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The School of Ballet Arizona offers unique, adaptive classes

How dance is helping individuals living with Parkinson's Disease and Down Syndrome.

PHOENIX — Dance is for everyone. 

That's the message The School of Ballet Arizona is hoping to deliver by offering a pair of unique classes for children living with Down Syndrome and adults living with Parkinson's Disease.

Ballet Arizona's Adaptive Dance Program was launched in 2014 with the goal of creating a comfortable environment for children with Down Syndrome to develop their physical and social skills. 

The school offers three levels of the class, based on skill level, in an effort to make dance more accessible in our community.

"I was working with children with autism as well as other disabilities and I thought 'you know that'd be a great fit! I'm a dancer, I think it's meant to be. I have to get in to teach the adaptive dance program," Ballet Arizona instructor Michelle Reissig said. "Anyone can dance. Anyone. Regardless of your disability, we will find a way to get you dancing."

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The classes are modified to allow the students to explore movement safely. The weekly class provides students with a space for self-expression while teaching body awareness and principles of discipline in class. 

Oscar Cortez has been taking his children to the class for several years and he's noticed how his son, Oscar, has benefitted from it.

"It seems like with Oscar he's developed a lot more balance and coordination. He's able to follow directions with discipline a lot more and you have to work on that foundation before you get into other things like baseball football or any other sport," Cortez said. "I'm pretty proud to see him here and watch him participate and make good friends."

The School of Ballet Arizona has been hosting a weekly Dance For Parkinson's Disease class, offered in collaboration with the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center. 

The class aims to help those living with PD manage their symptoms by connecting the mind and the body. Individuals diagnosed with PD can bring their caregivers or companions to take the class with them for free.

"It also helps break the social barrier that isolation that sometimes comes with these neurological conditions," longtime instructor Debbie Barganza explained. "Some of them have never taken a formal dance class in their life we can take a newcomer and bring them in and it all works."

Arizona's premiere ballet school is making a once-exclusive artform inclusive and enriching the lives of dancers young and old. Moving to music proves to be some form of therapy for students taking these classes and it's allowed members of the community to thrive.

Lisa Essex, who has been taking the Dance for Parkinson's class for the last four years, was an athlete growing up but doesn't claim to be much of a dancer. The music played in the class and the friendships she's established with her peers keep her coming back.

"It's not really dancing as much as just listening to the music and just moving to it. You don't have to know dance and it's nice to learn it," Essex said. "It's just really invigorating."

Follow the conversation with Lina Washington on Twitter: @LWashingtonTV. If you have a sports story idea, e-mail Lina at LWashington@12News.com.

VERSIÓN EN ESPAÑOL: La Escuela de Ballet de Arizona ofrece clases únicas y muy adaptables

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