Friday, June 17, 2011

twin sisters' bond through dance

Kelley Catenacci applies cherry red lipstick to the lips of her sister, Kendra, and colors her cheeks a rosy peach. It's a nice contrast to the glittery blue- and black-striped costumes they're both wearing for the big dance recital at Xavier High School.

The twin sisters from Appleton are the youngest of six children. The bond they share is no different than the closeness felt between most twins. As young girls, the two played school games together — Kelley was the teacher and Kendra was the student. They are not identical — in fact, there are some extraordinary differences between them; Kendra was born with Down syndrome.

"It's always a surprise to people to find out that we're twins," Kelley said. "They always thought that I was the older sister but Kendra is older than me by about a half-hour."

Growing up, Kelley helped her older sister learn to read, talk and walk. Now 20, she's still teaching her through the art of dance. Kelley is the assistant to instructor Marcia Fellows, owner of Marcia's School of Dance in Appleton.

At age 10, their mother, Linda Kay, encouraged the girls to take dance class together through a program initiated by The Arc Fox Cities, an organization that advocates for those with disabilities. The twins and three other young women, also with special needs, have been performing together in the same class since they were little girls.

"When she first said we were going to take dance classes, I wasn't extremely thrilled about it," Kelley said. "I was a tomboy. I liked basketball and softball and to play sports, but my mom wanted us to try it. I was excited to do something that Kendra and I could both do together at the same level."

Fellows marks her 50th anniversary in dance with this recital, which was held June 8 and 9. She said she had no idea what to expect from the audience the first year the girls performed but the reaction they received was beyond words.

"The response was so heartwarming," she said. "We were standing backstage with tears running down our faces."

With half a dozen recitals under their belts, the girls are old pros by now. There are definitely nerves on stage but Kendra said it's worth the applause and cheers from a satisfied crowd.

The prep work is intensive and Kendra watches her sister with fierce determination during a recent rehearsal. She's even added her own flair to some of the dance moves.

"I like to do the jazz better than the hula," Kendra said. "I hate to mess up a lot. I like everything perfect. I don't want to miss any steps."

"I can't remember a Friday when we didn't have dance classes," Kelly said. "These girls in our class — we're all a big family."

Kelley recalls some of the challenges that developed for her when they were children. In elementary school, the sisters were in the same classes and shared the same friends. But when they went away to separate high schools — Kendra to Appleton North and Kelley to Appleton West — Kelley began to notice differences between the two of them.

"There was a little bit of resentment there because she always got extra help from our parents and extra attention," Kelley said. "When she learned to tie her shoes, my parents made a big deal out of it, but I do that all the time."

"As I look at the bigger picture, our family is so thankful to have Kendra and I've learned so much more for having her be my twin sister."

As they've matured, the sisters have grown closer than ever. Last month, they flew to Pennsylvania to visit a sister. It was their first vacation and plane ride together alone. They shop together and still enjoy sports. Kendra is very involved in the Special Olympics — her favorite event is basketball.

"It's hard to think that we don't already know everything about each other," said Kelley, who's impressed with Kendra's work ethic and determination to be a better dancer.

Kelley asks her sister what she likes most about dancing together.

"It's cool," said Kendra, flashing a big thumbs up.

Replied Kelley: "You better say it's cool."

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