Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Etiquette, dance classes for students with Down syndrome are a hit

by Christie Lovvorn from AL.com:
Every Tuesday evening this year, the Icebreakers have put on their dancing shoes and gone to the Azalea City Center for the Arts where Ann Druhan taught them ballroom dances as part of the group's etiquette class. The young adult social and community service club of the Down Syndrome Society of Mobile County completed the classes June 8.
"We wanted to teach traditional ballroom dancing and etiquette skills to young adults with Down syndrome to help them gain poise and confidence when in social situations," said Lisa Gibert whose daughter Britt is a member of the Icebreakers.
"Our etiquette class covers the basics of a traditional etiquette class and provides extra time to learn and practice the skills being taught," Gibert said. "We also use methods used in drama classes such as role-playing, memorization, and improvisation to make the lessons fun, engaging, and memorable. The course includes lessons in ballroom dancing, table manners, and basic etiquette."
The classes, which averaged about 18 students all ranging between 18-30 years old, were part of a pilot program funded by grants provided by the Down Syndrome Society of Mobile County and the Global Down Syndrome Foundation. They were free to students with the exception of a $100 fee to offset costs for a dinner and a reception.
"I have taught them the proper dance positions, how to escort a girl to the dance floor, and a few other manners when at a social function," said veteran dance instructor Ann Druhan who also taught the group basic table manners and party manners.
"What a wonderful experience this has been for me," said Druhan. "These classes have been so rewarding to me. I love when I would give them a thumbs-up for something they did really well, and how excited they would get."Chris Paragone, executive director of the Azalea City Center of the Arts, reinforced the weekly etiquette lessons through role-playing and dramatic skits.
"It's been absolutely fabulous working with them," said Paragone. "Our purpose with Azalea City Center for the Arts was to put together an art center and bring the arts to everyone. This program just helps to fulfill that mission. It's been extremely successful.  I have thoroughly enjoyed it and the participants have gotten a lot out of it. In the future, I hope we can continue it."
A group of college students from the University of South Alabama assisted with the classes by serving as dance partners and helping the participants learn how to conduct social introductions.
"Before the class, I knew most of the people who attended because of Camp Smile where I have volunteered," said USA junior and volunteer Katherine Sweet.  "It's been nice seeing them once a week and spending time with them when I normally only see them one week in the summer. It's been nice to nice to help them learn how to deal in real-life situations."
"It's been a great thing," said Diane Butler whose son Brett participated in the classes. "The kids have enjoyed it and I have enjoyed it. They've learned so much. These kids are amazing."

Gibert said the Down Syndrome Society hopes to offer the course again and is seeking partners to help offset the expenses and reduce future class costs. For information regarding prospective future classes, contact the Down Syndrome Society at downsyndromesociety@gmail.com.

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