Dancing with a difference

KRISTIN MEADE

“Left, right. Left, right. Left,
right. Left, right.
One..two.three.four.five..
.six.seven.eight. Turn.”
This sounds confusing to spectators,
but to the students at Art
Studio Palette, in Trevose, it
makes perfect sense. Dance
instructor Serafima begins
each class with this phrase.
Simple and clear instructions
are her key to success.
Being clear is especially
important to Serafima, who is
from Russia and has some difficulty
with the English language.
Before beginning
dance, she greets her students
with “Privyet!” which is the
Russian equivalent to the
informal English greeting,
“Hi!”
Many of the students, like
Jenn Paulinski, have learning
disabilities that affect the way
they process information. With
time, however, they are able to
learn complicated dance steps
with the help of Serafima’s
assistant Yana. Paulinski says
she loves the class and the
social opportunity that it provides.
Her favorite part of dance
class is “just being able to
express myself”, Paulinski
says. She is looking forward to
participating in her first recital
this summer.
I am also in Serafima’s dance
class along with Constantin
Narita. Narita and I were born
with a condition called cerebral
palsy. It affects our balance,
coordination and
strength, making dancing a
challenge. However, working
with students with disabilities
is Serafima’s specialty. Every
student in the class has some
kind of disability.
For most
of the students
like
P a u l i n s k i
and her
partner, Tim
M u r p h y ,
this class is
very traditional.
In
the upcoming
recital,
P a u l i n s k i
will be
dancing to
the fastp
a c e d
“Alamos,”
by Enrique
I g l e s i a s .
She will
also be
involved in
s e v e r a l
other performances
with the rest
of the class,
w h i c h
i n c l u d e s
three other
members on
a regular
basis. They
are progressing quickly, since
they have been practicing for
several weeks.
For Narita, the road to performance
was different. He
had to stretch and strengthen
his muscles before he could
learn to dance. In fact, he started
learning his performance
piece just a few weeks ago.
This has proven to be a long
and challenging process for
him, but he loves the class and
is making great progress.
I asked Narita what he likes
most about the class.
“Being able to express
myself and learn new dance
steps. And, dancing with you!”
he said.
Narita isn’t just my dance
partner, he also happens to be
my boyfriend. He is grateful
for the opportunity to learn
slow dancing.
Not only
because it’s
romantic, but
also because
his original
purpose in the
class wasn’t
really to slow
dance at all. It
was to help
improve his
walking.
Narita is
able to walk
independently,
but uses
crutches for
long distances.
He
hopes that
someday, with
the help of
Serafima and
several weekly
physical
therapy sessions,
the will
no longer
need his
crutches. That
being said, he
has had to
work quite
hard to get to
the point of
being able to dance. Before he
could dance he had to stretch.
In addition to stretching,
Narita and I must do exercises
to improve our hand-eye coordination.
Serafima says this is
an essential part of learning to
dance. To do this, we play a
game similar to the children’s
game patty-cake.
“Clap together. Clap, right.
Clap, left. Clap, right. Clap,
left. Clap, together,” Serafima
cues us.
Sounds simple enough, doesn’t
it? Not really, but Narita
can tell when he skips a step or
misses a move.
“Nyet, nyet,” Serafima mumbles.
Even if you don’t follow
her words, you know whether
you make a mistake by the
look on her face.
To help himself remember,
Narita says the steps aloud.
“Clap together. Clap right,
clap left. Clap right, clap left.
Clap together.”
This game was Serafima’s
idea, and silly as it sounds, it
does work.
It works because it follows
the same sequence as the steps
for our slow dancing. It also
helps us to keep up with a
dancing game that the rest of
the class plays.
Paulinski, who participates
in this game with Yana and the
rest of the class, is very
encouraging to Narita.
“You’ll get it,” she says.
Paulinski is looking forward
to her first dance recital this
summer.
Narita says he doesn’t particularly
like the games, but
enjoys the slow dancing quite a
bit. He looks forward to
improving in dance, getting
stronger, and participating in
the recital this June.