It was Wednesday evening rehearsal at Dixie’s Dance Studio in Millerstown. Dianne Ritzman watched a group of students lace up their dance shoes.
“I think every little girl wants to dance at some point and it’s just not something we thought would ever really happen for her,” said Dianne Ritzman. She was talking about her 14-year-old daughter Ellie who had a dream of dancing on stage with her friends.
But, there was an obstacle the determined teenager needed to tackle before that dream could come true. She had to learn her dance moves in spite of her cerebral palsy.
“She has that excitement to want to dance in front of everybody,” said instructor Lisa Anstine. “You can tell she loves it.”
And perhaps Anstine knows better than anyone how Ellie feels about dance. With instructor Shanna Shultz fronting the class, Anstine becomes Ellie’s legs for the dances, holding her from behind, guiding her arms and legs through the turns, twirls and dips of each dance. With this unique set-up, Ellie is not “in addition to the class,” she is “one of the class.”
“Ellie’s parents approached the studio last year about their daughter’s dream,” said Anstine, a teacher at nearby Greenwood School. “They asked if there was anything we could do at Dixie’s Dance Studio? Not even thinking, I said, ‘Yep! We can do it.”
Six short months later, Ellie danced in her first recital, along side her sister Leah and her friends.
“When we went out on the stage for the first time, I had a hard time holding it together because it was quite the flow of emotions,” said Anstine. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the audience.”
Using a tandem dance partner for one of her students is a first for Dixie Gordon, who’s been teaching dance for 46 years in her home studio. She credits her staff and what shew calls the generosity of Ellie’s fellow dancers for making it work.
Ellie’s parents say being part of the dance team brings out their daughter’s true personality.
“A lot of times Ellie’s in a wheelchair,” said Ellie’s mom, “and that definitely suppresses her emotions. “So dancing just lets her be herself and kind of hang it all out.”
“There are times when Ellie wants to be on the floor by herself, to show her spirit of dance,” added Anstine. “For parts of the songs, I stand aside and let Ellie dance by herself.”
The routines are physically demanding on Anstine, but you won’t hear any complaints from her.
“At the end of the day, am I tired? Yeah, but I don’t even think about it.”
And, with the class winding down for the evening, words of encouragement are sent home with all the dancers.
“Good job, girls. See you next week,” said Shultz.