Ten little pairs of feet pitter-patter to the stage and fidget with anticipation. As the first note of music sounds, the feet take off and carry the dancers around the room in a flurry of leaps and twirls. Weeks of practice have culminated in pliés, tiptoes, and turns, but these movements only tell part of the story.
The dancers are a part of the Be Beautiful Be Yourself Dance Class (a joint effort of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, the Colorado Ballet, and the Anna and John J. Sie Center for Down Syndrome at Children's Hospital Colorado), a ballet class designed specifically for children with Down syndrome. The condition is a chromosomal abnormality that affects an estimated 6,000 people in Colorado (and five million worldwide). The 10-week course is taught by two instructors from the Colorado Ballet (including one ballerina) and two physical therapists. Kids join an age-approriate class to learn beginning ballet steps and general creative movement to improve physical and mental capabilities.
Like other youth athletic programs, the classes help kids build self-confidence, strengthen verbalization skills, work on following direction, and remain physically fit. But practicing ballet steps has an added benefit for children with Down syndrome: As they develop motor skills as toddlers, kids with Down syndrome tend to compensate for differences in their physical makeup. If unguided, these compensations can lead to physical problems in adulthood. In these classes, kids dance and train their bodies to move in a way that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
Get Involved: Attend the Global Down Syndrome Foundation's Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show on Saturday, October 13. The annual fund-raiser, which features models with Down syndrome walking alongside well-known local and national talent, nets more than $1 million each year. Expect to see a variety of celebrities, including Jamie Foxx, Quincy Jones, Ed McCaffrey, and a live performance by Natasha Bedingfield. Tickets start at $250.
Bonus: Get an inside look at one dancer in the program, six-year-old Staci Unrau, with 5280's "Tiny Dancer."
—Image courtesy of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation