Imagine a studio in 2004 at the El Camino YMCA filled with tiny dancers wiggling joyously as their hair bounces wildly to the beat of the music. With smiles beaming on their six-year-old faces, they giggle while holding hands and twirling in circles. To the side is another beautiful, highly active child. This child is different. She has yet to learn how to talk, loud sounds make her prone to outbursts, and rather than controlled little arms, they often flail, accidentally hitting some of the other children. Integrating this precious child is a challenge, for in the eyes of the others, she is not like them. But as the weeks progress, the children begin to see her as one of their own, one to protect and love. The child’s mom looked on and wished all children like hers could have an experience like this—an experience where they feel cared for, accepted, and free. Oh, the beauty of childhood innocence when looking beyond the visual and embracing not just the person, but the soul.

Today there is a space where young and old alike gather to experience the same joy of movement to music with no judgment, no criticism, and no fear. All levels learn at their own pace and are given the freedom to express themselves with no preconceived idea for perfection. This all-inclusive setting has parents dancing with their child with special needs alongside those labeled “normal.” All feel welcomed, included, and safe. This is pure magic—this is Dance for All.

In 2014, Teresa Maldonado Marchok and Mercy Forde, both fitness instructors, teamed up to create this delightful program. As fitness enthusiasts, they know firsthand how important physical activity is for everybody, no matter what age. As mothers to special needs children, they found it difficult to find classes for their children that were not separate from the community because of their challenges. Their children, just like all children, brimming with equal capability. All they needed was an opportunity to participate. And so, Dance for All was born.

The dance class is run similar to other fitness classes, with Teresa and Mercy demonstrating and instructing a variety of movements and techniques that develop and improve core strength, flexibility, and balance. Students not only learn current dance moves in rhythm with the latest music, but there’s also Pilates mat work, and a closing meditation that allows all to center themselves before leaving the studio. Participants are not only welcome but encouraged to interpret the moves as the music flows. Though they might not all be synchronized, they are all united in spirit and fun.

The program’s mission is “Connecting the Community through Movement,” and this inclusive class allows the unique twofold beauty of the program to shine. First, Dance for All gives the special needs participant the tools to conduct themselves in a movement class, thus enabling integration into other classes as well as a sense of belonging to society as a whole. Second, the class creates a fun environment for the typical fitness participant to learn more about and interact with this precious sub-set. Despite initial perceived differences in thought process and language, the typical student begins to see that each member of the class has dreams and desires, just like anyone.

Dance for All is celebrating its fifth anniversary. What started as a dream has morphed into a beautiful weekly event and a studio packed with participants. Whether dancers come alone or with their children, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

Margie Pfister, who attends class with her adult daughter Ellen, summed up their experience, which many can relate to.   “Amidst the ups and downs of our days, Dance for All has been a positive welcoming spot from the moment we entered the class and are greeted by name.

Through the warm-ups, dance, and cool-down, my daughter and I are inspired to be our best as we encourage others to do as well. With the positive music, and Teresa’s and Mercy’s kind encouragement, we not only feel a sense of belonging, but our posture has improved in our daily activities. By the end of class, we feel a sense of accomplishment, have met new friends, and this world feels like a better place, and we feel better in it.”


As for that bright-eyed child in that dance class so long ago, she is Teresa’s twenty-year-old daughter, Katelyn, and I was privileged to be her dance teacher. Today, she takes all kinds of classes at the YMCA and is a joy to watch as her face still beams while dancing. How fortunate is our community to embrace such a program where students come together as equals and friends. Just as Margie said, this experience makes the world feel like a better place, and all feel better in it.

 

If you want to participate in a joyful experience, come check out Dance for All every Saturday from 1:00-2:00 pm at the El Camino YMCA/ 2400 Grant Road, Mt. View. Ages 8-88 gather in the multipurpose room and unite to elevate awareness, promote community acceptance and just have fun.

 

 

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Written by Jackie Madden Haugh

Critically acclaimed published author, former columnist for The Los Altos Town Crier,  realtor, dance instructor, devoted mom and grandma…and a dear friend.

 

 

 

 

 

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Written by Jackie Madden Haugh

 

Critically acclaimed published author, former columnist for

The Los Altos Town Crier, realtor, dance instructor, devoted mom and grandma…and a dear friend.

If your feet were on your face would you take better care of them? Our feet are a marvel of architecture, each one has 26 bones, 33 joints and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments.  We shove them into all manner of shoes, some narrow and unaccommodating, pound them endlessly and on occasion adorn them with nail polish. They need more than a pedicure! 
Our feet are what connects us to the earth when we stand.  I believe that when we have strong, malleable feet they become the foundation for a strong and stable body.  If our feet are weak, immobile or out of alignment, it can have adverse affects up the kinetic chain to our ankle, knee, hip and even spine.

You’re never too old to improve your foot health. Even if your feet are stiff now, studies show that your flexibility can be improved at any age. Give your feet a breather and walk barefoot in your home. Make daily outdoor walks a regular habit and include foot strengthening and flexibility exercises into your routine. All 3 of my DVD’s include standing and resistance band exercises that improve the strength of your feet and the malleability of your ankles.  

In my first DVD, BoneSmart Pilates: Exercise to Prevent or Reverse Osteoporosis, I introduce myofascial release of the feet using custom cut 1/2 tennis balls. The goal is to improve blood flow, circulation, resilience and to enhance proprioception (the body’s ability to tell the brain where your body is in space).  This is particularly helpful for improving balance and decreasing your risk of falls. The reason I use 1/2 tennis balls and not full tennis balls is two-fold.  The 1/2 tennis ball is pliable, has give, and will compress when you press your body weight on it making it tolerable for those with sensitive feet.  A full tennis ball, has less give and is more resistant to compression so it may feel more painful than using a 1/2 tennis ball.  The other important reason is that since it has a flat underside surface, it won’t roll and will not pose a trip hazard by slipping out from under your foot. That is a risk when working with a full small round ball.

BoneSmart Pilates AGING STRONG VOL I,  introduces you to the Myofascial release ball (affectionately referred to as the “purple pickle”). 

This prop kicks up the stimulation to your feet with a textured surface and an oval shape that molds to the longitudinal arch of your foot. We focus here on both a light, stimulatory massage and a deep kneading motion that heightens sensory awareness of the soles of your feet, shuttles blood back towards your heart and helps prevent conditions like plantar fasciitis. In addition, we introduce inversion and eversion of the forefoot, a gentle twisting motion, that is helpful for preventing ankle sprains and maintaining a resilient foot and ankle. 

Show your feet some love ❤️. Start your day this way and you’ll feel energized, connected and grounded!

 

 

Aging Strong Pilates Volume 2 is at the printer right now and I’m so excited to make these workouts available to you!  This DVD is a brain body challenge with 2 efficient workouts ~ 25min each, for when you’re tight on time!  In addition to standing weight bearing exercise and core mat work, It includes a bone building stomping dance and a bonus posture coaching section. If you have all 3 of my DVDs, you’ll have a workout for every day of the week!  Pre-order by 8/19 and enter code FREESHIP to get Free Domestic Shipping!

Here’s a sneak peak into one of my Aging Strong Pilates Workshops.    I have conducted these workshops across the United States to ensure women are aware of the risks of osteoporosis and osteopenia, and to assist women in maintaining and regaining bone strength.     If you’d like more information about a Aging Strong Pilates workshop for your group or conference, please contact me.

 

This DVD, created by a physical therapist, addresses exercise that targets common areas of decline as we age. It moves a a faster pace than its precursor, “BoneSmart Pilates®: Exercise to Prevent or Reverse Osteoporosis”. It is a perfect gift for yourself or someone you know that wants to age with strength and grace. Though challenging, it is safe for those with special conditions as well as osteopenia or osteoporosis. Bonus Posture Segment demonstrates how to achieve ideal sitting posture with ease.

Here’s an easy way to get a massage at home!

What?    You don’t have any half tennis balls to use?   Here’s how to make them!

Our October Aging Strong Inspiration is Rozz.   Rozz came to me with very kyphotic posture and a desire to not follow in her mother’s mold. Her determination has paid off. Watch her 30 second video below.  Dramatic improvements have been made in her strength and postural mindfulness. Way to go Rozz!

 

Teresa Maldonado Marchok, physical therapist and certified Pilates instructor, shares BoneSmart Pilates® Healthy Supported Sitting Tips when you want to sit at the back of a chair.