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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.

Having a husband and son who are hard core hikers,  I’ve  had to figure out how to keep up. With much encouragement  (and trepidation on my part) I made it up Yosemite National Park’s iconic Half Dome for the first time just 4 years ago.  Since that extremely challenging hike which literally wiped me out, I’ve discovered the magic of trekking poles and it’s made subsequent hikes so much easier!

What are some of the advantages of trekking poles?
  • Stability and balance-you’ve just added 2 more points of contact on the ground in addition to your 2 feet.
  • Power-as you pull yourself forward with your upper body, it creates more power and force to propel you
  • Integrated workout– you find you’ll use your upper body, core and hips in an integrated full body work out as you propel yourself forward in space.
  • Strengthening myofascial connections-For those interested in fascia, the connections of the posterior oblique fascial sling are magnified as you engage your latissimus dorsi on one side simultaneously with the gluteal muscle on the opposite side of your body. As the right arm extends back-you fire that right latissimus muscle, at the same time you are extending your opposite hip (left) gluteal muscle. They work in tandem in a powerful way to propel you forward.
  • Aesthetics-you look sporty!
When I ascend a steep hill, I’m working both my upper body and my hips and legs. The extra support from the poles and recruitment of my upper body almost feels like someone is offering me a boost from behind. It’s a tremendous help.
When I descend, the poles take some of the weight off my joints helping relieve possible overuse and stress to my knees.
Since incorporating trekking poles into my hikes, I feel more powerful, have better endurance and feel more stability with the enhanced balanced provided by additional points of contact with the poles to the ground.  I’m more sure of my footing as I’m able to test the terrain with my forward pole.
The mechanics of walking with the poles is simple but requires awareness and practice.  As you step forward with your right heel simultaneously the left pole touches done in front and vice versa.

Try this now with me.  As you step forward with the right heel, your upper body is rotated toward the front (right) leg-left pole on the ground in front.  Then your left lats fire as you pull back w/your left arm, rotating your upper body to the left as you shift your weight onto your rt leg and your left leg swings forward.

The kinetic chain continues with firing of the opposite right gluteal muscle in a diagonal pattern.  This is the myofascial posterior oblique line of connective tissue in action, firing in a coordinated fashion to promote healthy gait.

Recently my husband and son hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up in 1 day.  Though I had no desire to put myself through that, I joined my daughter and the rest of our friends for some challenging hikes offering breathtaking vistas and with every facilitated step I was grateful to have the poles ease impact on my joints during the descent and have the poles assist me to power my ascent.

The collapsible poles that I own provide absorption of forces, increased power to propel myself, and more stability and balance to reduce the risk of falls.  Poles come at set heights and adjustable heights.  If you’re buying ones at a set height- make sure your forearm is parallel with the ground when you’re holding them (elbow at a 90 degree angle).  If you want to share your poles, it’s better to buy adjustable poles where you can vary the height.

For me, the features most important were collapsibility (to 24 inches) and weight. I wanted to be able to tuck them in a backpack or hang them from a carabiner on my fanny pack and wanted them to be very lightweight.  I have no ties with any trekking pole company. I just wanted to share my experience in the hopes that it might inspire others to get moving more and enjoy the amazing beauty we have at our fingertips.

Stay tuned for my next blog post and video where I’ll share helpful stretches and warmups for hiking using the trekking poles.