Ballroom dance program for special needs kids and young adults opens in Lakewood Ranch.
Lakewood Ranch’s Rossana Schmidt sat in the corner of a ballroom at Dynasty Dance Club’s new Lakewood Ranch location and watched her 29-year-old daughter, Bryanna, waltz with instructor Colton Gannon.
Bryanna has epilepsy, which causes seizures and has restricted her ability to socialize and participate in activities over the years.
“She didn’t have any friends,” Rossana Schmidt said. “Now look at her. She’s beaming. She’s excited. Every time I watch these kids, I have tears in my eyes because they’ve come so far.”
Bryanna participates in both private and group lessons through the Dynasty Stars Program, which provides ballroom dancing lessons to kids and young adults with special needs. She has taken classes at Dynasty Dance’s Sarasota location for the past three years but now is part of the inaugural group of Stars participants at Dynasty’s new Lakewood Ranch location, 7313 International Place. A
Wednesday afternoon group class launched Aug. 14.
Sarah Lototskyy, who owns Dynasty Dance Clubs with her husband, Maks, already said she hopes to add a Thursday night group lesson.
“We want to reach more people,” Lototskyy said. “It started as something fun to do. We’ve seen a tremendous benefit.”
She and Gannon started the Stars program in 2016 with three dancers, including Bryanna Schmidt. It now has about 50 regular participants at the Sarasota location.
Lototskyy said she and Gannon don’t teach the Stars any differently than their other students. They are challenged to master each level of dancing by learning different steps and moves as they advance, much like martial arts students earn different colored belts as they progress.
They do at times make adjustments if needed, particularly if safety is a concern. For example, Bryanna Schmidt has danced from a chair after having a seizure during class.
Gannon said Stars students, who sometimes struggle with personal space and physical touch, are given opportunities to learn to overcome those issues because they dance with partners.
“There’s a social aspect,” Gannon said. “It’s their group of friends. It gives them a sense of belonging.”
More advanced Stars participants also are encouraged to try non-Stars group classes, so they are more challenged. Gannon said it builds empathy and teaches non-Stars dancers that individuals with special needs might need some assistance.
Gannon said parents are often skeptical and don’t believe their children will be able to master ballroom dancing. However, having danced with and trained dancers with special needs, Gannon said he knows they are wrong, and he loves to shatter their expectations.
“We do this to our best friends and the people we love the most — we put limitations on them,” Gannon said.
Colleen Buccieri said she has watched her now 19-year-old godson, Jordan Soriano, flourish since starting group and, especially, private lessons.
“It gives the child something they own,” Buccieri said. “It gives them confidence to go out and to what they choose do. They get to choose their own music. They get to help choose their own costumes. Some help with the routine. It’s something they totally own, and they get to perform it.”
Buccieri is the founder of Face Autism, a nonprofit that provides sensory-friendly activities, support groups, referral for therapeutic services and other resources to families affected by autism. Through her organization, she has helped Dynasty Dance Clubs recruit dancers and has helped pay for their lessons.
Dynasty Stars Program dancers are offered group lessons for $10 per lesson. Private lessons also are available at a discounted rate.
Face Autism helps underwrite most of the remaining cost to participants through grants. Last year, it was awarded about $20,000 in grants for lessons, Buccieri said.
The nonprofit also collects participants’ costumes and pays for hotel accommodations for competitions.