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Allyson Harden continues to expand upon her outreach to exceptional children by teaching them dance.

The end result of her efforts will be their participation as part of a spring recital in May at The Centre on the campus of Halifax Community College through Given’s Dance Studio.

“The kids are excited,” Harden said in a recent interview at the studio. “I was asked. Janice (Given) asked me. I’ve been wanting to do a class like this.”

Harden, who is a junior at Roanoke Rapids High School, said the classes are a way to reach out to the community as well as a way to touch students with Down Syndrome, Autism and other developmental disabilities. “It is a great way for exceptional children to be involved in an extracurricular activity and also helping them improve motor skills, confidence and social skills.”

She said dance can also be “a unique and effective way to reach children with special needs because it is nonverbal. Dance can help students gain balance between the halves of the body, allow them to express emotion, gain muscle control and even work through trauma.”

Harden said dance helps with social interaction, which she explained “can be way less stressful on sensitive nervous systems. Through the use of simple patterns, sequencing and repetition, the students learn the fundamentals of dance, including the basics of movement, rhythm and ballet as well as practicing basic academic skills.”

Caitlyn Gibson, a friend of Allyson’s sister, Macey, observed the rehearsal and the experience has helped her reshape her understanding of the children participating. “I see them completely different. There is a better bond with everyone. It helps calm them down and makes them laugh a lot.”

Macey was also observing. “I just thought I would like it. I see them differently now.”

There is a consistent class of four to five children who participate, Allyson said.

The class is working on a dance set to Barbie Bandaids in which the students will use mirrors. “They’re really excited. When I was little I did a dance with a mirror. I thought it would be great to help them to see who they really are.”

Tammy Perkinson is a parent who came to watch the rehearsal.

“She wanted to come. She loves doing it,” Perkinson said of her daughter, Hayley. “She needs it because of her medication. It makes her stiffen. I do see a positive outcome.”

Allyson said she feels the sessions are progressing well. “I don’t feel like they’re just learning dance. They’re learning to grow as a person and interacting with others.”

Michelle Perkins was at the studio to watch her daughter Kendall rehearse. “She’s excited,” Michelle said of her daughter. “She loves to dance. They are all familiar with each other and get along. They are all eager to dance and learn and to know there are other kids like them so they don’t have to feel left out.”