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Allegro Dance Project reaches out to special needs students to make hard work seem like fun


By Tammy L. Lane
Special to KyForward

Jeana Klevene feels right at home leading a contemporary dance class in a school gym, and she’s OK veering off script for youngsters who might not always react or perform as expected. That’s kind of the point of her Allegro Dance Project, a nonprofit that reaches out to students with special needs.

“We adapt the program based on the group. We try to not focus on the limitations,” said Klevene, the founder and artistic director.

For the past several Tuesdays, Klevene has worked with about 10 children at Lexington’s Breckinridge Elementary – mostly fifth-graders with learning disabilities. In the 45-minute sessions, she led them through warm-ups to stretch and flex their muscles, and taught them simple exercises and dance moves.

Frank Messina, a retired arts-and-humanities teacher, played a series of notes on his keyboard and asked the students to echo the rhythm by clapping (Photo Provided)

Frank Messina, a retired arts-and-humanities teacher, played a series of notes on his keyboard and asked the students to echo the rhythm by clapping (Photo Provided)

These particular students have concentrated on following instructions and repeating patterns. For instance, Frank Messina, a retired arts-and-humanities teacher, played a series of notes on his keyboard and asked the students to echo the rhythm by clapping. In another activity, Klevene demonstrated leg kicks by hopping over small orange cones. She and Messina also teamed up to show the children how certain kinds of music evoke different types of movement, such as sleepy, fearful or excited.

“A lot of it is having them focus on skills that are very hard work – balance, agility, body isolation, hand-eye coordination. It’s disguised in a way that they don’t realize what they’re working on. Dance is hard no matter what, and if we tell our body that we can’t, it’s hard to overcome,” Klevene said. “Since the physical activity is strenuous, we want to make sure it stays fun and holds their interest so the kids are excited to do it.”

Each week, Klevene brought along Messina or another musician on guitar, drums, or hand percussion instruments. Molly Anderson, a special education teacher at Breckinridge, noted how the series helped students track multi-step directions and learn how to follow a beat and count their steps.

“It’s a big team effort that really worked on those social and behavioral skills,” she said. “The most important part was the self-confidence. It gave them an opportunity to be themselves and have fun doing it in an environment they feel safe and comfortable in.”

The Allegro Dance Project offers its services mainly to Title I schools, where students might not have the resources for private lessons. This year Klevene has also visited Arlington, Booker T. Washington Intermediate, Cardinal Valley, Julius Marks, and Russell Cave elementaries, and Leestown and Tates Creek middle schools. Sessions are scheduled this spring at Bryan Station and Lafayette high schools.

“Our main goal is to generate the ‘want’ to participate in the arts. We just want to ignite that interest. Even if it’s not dance, it might lead to students taking an acting class or a music class,” Klevene said. “It’s that overall idea of inclusion and not thinking there’s any kind of limitations for any artistic or expressive form.”

Tammy L. Lane is editor of the Fayette County Public Schools website


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