Dance-Lite is just right!

North Penn Life - - FRONT PAGE - By Jennifer Law­son jlaw­son@21st-Cen­tu­ry­

W hen Theresa and Bob Kelly took their 15-year-old son, Brian, back Pen­n­field Mid­dle School in Hat­field May 22, they said he might have thought he was re­turn­ing for more school­ing.

In­stead, some­thing more fun was on the agenda — an event called Dance-Lite, fea­tur­ing a DJ, danc­ing and recre­ational ac­tiv­i­ties for stu­dents of the dis­trict’s three mid­dle schools who are en­rolled in autis­tic sup­port, life skills sup­port and mul­ti­dis­abled sup­port classes.

This sen­sory-mod­i­fied dance was geared to­ward stu­dents who aren’t com­fort­able with loud sounds, flash­ing lights or the stress of so­cial sit­u­a­tions.

The mu­sic wasn’t too loud, and the lights were dimmed in the dance floor part of the gym but they weren’t too dark. The event was small, so the stu­dents didn’t have to nav­i­gate a crowd.

The event also of­fered things other than danc­ing, such as video games in the cafe­te­ria, phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties, wheel­chair games and food.

“I was ex­cited when I heard about it,” Theresa Kelly said, smil­ing as Brian, seated on a gym scooter and hold­ing a hula hoop, was gen­tly swung around by his peer buddy in a qui­eter part of the gym ad­ja­cent to the danc­ing area. “It’s a good op­por­tu­nity for so­cial­iza­tion.”

Kari An­der­son, a math in­ter­vHnWLon DssLsWDnW DW PHn­n­fiHlG and the mother of 12-yearold Gabe, who has cere­bral palsy, came up with the idea for Dance-Lite ear­lier this year.

She said Gabe at­tended KLs firsW GDnFH DW PHn­n­fiHlG Ln March, and she and her hus­band, Jeremy, pre­pared him for what to ex­pect, say­ing it would be loud. They had him wear earplugs.

“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a dance just for kids who have sen­sory is­sues?’” An­der­son said. “I said I’d do it if I came up with a good name. No­body wants to go to the Spe­cial Needs Dance.”

An­der­son de­cided on Dance-Lite, which stems from how soft­ware pro­grams, such as Adobe Pho­to­shop, of­fer the “lite” ver­sion, which is just as good as the orig­i­nal pro­gram, but doesn’t have some of the ad­di­tional fea­tures.

In this case, the event was with­out some of the things that the tar­get stu­dents might not re­spond well to.

An­der­son re­ceived the green light to go for­ward with her idea by Bar­bara Gal­loway, Pen­n­field's prin­ci­pal

She man­aged to pull it to­gether with­out spend­ing much money, she said. Staff mem­bers and stu­dents from schools across the dis­trict vol­un­teered to help out, the DJ do­nated his time, par­ents brought in re­fresh­ments and An­der­son used her home printer to cre­ate fliers.

“For the first go-around, wH made it in­vi­ta­tion-only to see what the re­sponse would be,” An­der­son said. “We’re cre­at­ing this en­vi­ron­ment to see if they thrive in it.”

It was clear that the stu­dents were thriv­ing.

A girl came through the en­trance and ran up to the regis­tra­tion ta­ble, say­ing, “I’m wear­ing my pretty white dress!” Her par­ents fol­lowed, and her fa­ther had a cam­era trained on her.

In the gym, some stu­dents moved to the mu­sic while oth­ers sprinted around with ex­cited smiles on their faces.

Some par­ents, teach­ers and staffers stood on the perime­ter watch­ing, while oth­ers danced with the kids.

Eleanor Nagele, a spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion as­sis­tant at Wal­ton Farm El­e­men­tary School who helped out at the dance, said she was happy to re­unite with some of her for­mer stu­dents, who are now in mid­dle school.

“Look at them — they’re hav­ing a ball,” she said. “It’s won­der­ful. They’re be­ing so­cial and hav­ing a great time. It’s so good to see them.”

In the cafe­te­ria, a group of boys was play­ing video games that were pro­jected onto a wall.

Fif­teen-year-old Lu­cas Cunningham, a stu­dent at Pen­ndale, said that the best part of the event was the chance to be so­cia­ble.

Jeff Klau­men­zer, 14, who also at­tends Pen­ndale, said he doesn’t like to dance, but en­joys mu­sic and com­puter games, and that he was hav­ing a good time.

“It’s amaz­ing. There are no words that can de­scribe it at all,” he said. “When I heard the DJ was go­ing to be play­ing re­quested songs, I im­me­di­ately wanted to go.”

Dressed in a suit and tie, 15-yearold Ben Har­tranft, a Pennbrook stu­dent, said he thought the event was “fan­tas­tic” and he was hav­ing fun see­ing his friends.

“I re­ally like to dance,” he said, adding, “I love [the song] ‘Call Me Maybe.’”

Forty-five stu­dents were in­vited in­vited to at­tend, but that num­ber could grow for fu­ture events. An­der­son said she’d like to write a grant for a big­ger Dance-Lite in­volv­ing the larger com­mu­nity.

“In the end, de­pend­ing on the re­sponse, the sky’s the limit,” she said.

Pho­tos by Mark C. Pso­ras

Ben Har­tranft, sec­ond from left, shows a pic­ture on his cam­era to a friend dur­ing the Dance-Lite event at Pen­n­field Mid­dle School.

Above, Pen­n­field stu­dents take part in the Dance-Lite event. Left, Ben Har­tranft dances with Sarah Mathew. Be­low, Pen­n­field teacher Ellen Green dances with a group of stu­dents.

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