Four years ago Lin Hughes, of Chadstone/East Malvern Rotary Club, Melbourne, was half-listening to the Saturday morning TV. She heard Lucy Ricardo from Waverley talking about how her 11-year-old with Down’s Syndrome was enjoying special dance classes for children with disabilities.
Lin was intrigued because she lived near Waverley Road. But when she got in touch, Lucy was in Waverley NSW.
Lucy explained to Lin how to get a dance class set up. It Lin’s club took two frustrating years until the first session in February 2012, with five children.
Now a dozen from 6 to 16 years old immerse themselves in “BusyFeet” – a weekly hour of music and dance at the Stonnington Community Centre.
Last month the BusyFeet class did a dance demonstration before 2000 athletes and adults at the closing ceremony of the Special Olympics National Games at St Kilda.
Melton Valley Rotary Club started a class in October, with the help of a Melton City Council grant. A dozen clubs clubs have asked Lin for help. Two clubs are ready to start classes, but are still looking for dance teachers.
Lin’s BusyFeet has 17 children registered, most with autism and some with Down’s Syndrome. “Even if they just come onto the floor and move a bit and have fun, it’s special to them and we see them gain confidence,” Lin says.
“One mother told me her daughter was thrilled to have her own extra-curricular activity to go to, the same as other kids.
“One kid asks every morning, ‘Is it BusyFeet today?’ We see kids who don’t talk much, starting to chat after a few months, and remembering dance sequences. The mums are also able to network and chat, or maybe have a break for some me-time.”
The club’s dance teacher is volunteer Gaynor Maxwell, who runs a nearby jazz centre. Gaynor has led the class since it started in 2012. For stage shows and concerts, a dozen of her own students come along to coach the children individually.
It’s an intense activity for Lin’s 50-member club, involving six members, two partners and volunteers. About 15 adults are required each week, for one-on-one roles and tasks such as making sure all the children stay in the room.
The start-up difficulties included wading through the red tape of the disability sector, and an entire year’s work – unsuccessful – by Lin’s club to establish a not-for-profit entity. “We now have a handbook for clubs on what to do – and especially, what not to do,” Lin says with a smile.
BusyFeet follows the template of DanceAbility NSW, which is part of a network of the dance classes , with names like Merry Makers, Dance Chance, Dancing Hearts and BrightStars.
The Chadstone club got three $5000 annual grants from the Stonnington Council, and uses two council rooms for a modest charge.
The families pay only an optional gold coin, as most are beset by heavy expenses.