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(Steve Griffin/The Salt Lake Tribune) Nina Walworth watches herself dance in the mirror at Inspire Dance Studio in Clearfield.
Special gift helps Utah’s Inspire Academy dance class kids

Nonprofit’s $2,500 donation will help with health and wellness.

First Published May 16 2012 07:28 am • Last Updated Aug 28 2012 11:33 pm

Clearfield • A boisterous dance room quiets to a hush as the song on the CD player ends.

Five girls and women ages 4 to 20 glide across a wooden dance floor and come to a stop in one of the many rooms at Inspire Dance Studio.

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To learn more about the studio » www.inspiredancestudio.com.

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Some look at their reflections in the full-length mirrors. One stares at her toes. Another plays with the wheels on her wheelchair.

Each dance group at the studio has a name — this one is Elevate Academy. What makes the class special is that every student has a physical or cognitive need. Some have Down syndrome, while others have a bone disease, but they are all alike in one way — they have a desire to dance.

The speakers begin to blast with a new sound as Kool and the Gang’s "Celebration" begins playing. The girls’ once-wandering attention abruptly shifts toward the dance instructor shouting out routine instructions.

Madison Ryan, a 4-year-old with curly brown locks held back by a yellow bow, grabs a stick with a blue ribbon attached and swirls it around. Madison — who has a rare genetic disease that doesn’t break down cells leading to organ, tissue and cell damage — says, "I like the ribbons." Playing with ribbons and spinning and sliding on the floor are her favorite part of the one-hour-a-week class on Tuesday evenings.

Last month, nonprofit health-insurance carrier Select Health awarded the Elevate Academy class — one of 25 recipients in the state — $2,500, money intended to help those with health and wellness or those with special needs.

Dance instructor and physical therapist Julie Bouck said she hopes to buy new costumes for the children, which they haven’t had since the program began two years ago. She also hopes to get mats and other equipment to use during dance routines to help the children develop more ways to express themselves.

Bouck looks forward to the class as much as students.

"This class is the highlight of my week, because this class is so positive," she said of her students while they danced behind her. "They are so helpful and fun."

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Lerner Johnson, 8, of West Point, now spins around in a wheelchair, but she used to walk all the time. She joined Elevate Academy two years ago, to be "like [her] older sister," who is taking competitive classes at the dance studio. It was around that time that she stopped walking on her own and began using a wheelchair.

When Lerner was 2, her parents discovered she had a rare form of muscular dystrophy known as spinal muscular atrophy Type 3. Over the years, she has progressively lost her mobility.

"I’m really lucky," Lerner optimistically said of her type of disease. She realizes it could be worse.

"I can’t do things that they do," she says, pointing at some of her classmates, "but I just have to do it my way."

She still walks a little, but most of the time is spent in her chair.

As Lerner works on her dance moves for the upcoming June recital she says the class makes her "feel good."

"I can be a part of something that not just normal people can do," Lerner said.

Bouck said when she began the class two years ago she didn’t know how it was going to pan out, because each child was so different. Since then, the students have taught her by their example.

"I come away thinking, ‘They are all so nonjudgmental of one another,’ " Bouck said.

What one child lacks physically or mentally, another is there to help out.

Bouck says there is a goal for students to perform an actual dance routine, instead of just moving around.

"I try to adapt a dance to something that everyone can do," she said.

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