Put On Your Tutu and Walk With Ballet For All Kids

By Elena Epstein

At Ballet For All Kids, dancers of all abilities – including those with physical and developmental challenges – step and twirl together. PHOTO COURTESY BALLET FOR ALL KIDS

At Ballet For All Kids, dancers of all abilities – including those with physical and developmental challenges – step and twirl together. PHOTO COURTESY BALLET FOR ALL KIDS

Elise Luna, 6, loves to dance. With her ballet DVD in hand, she twirls around her living room every chance she gets. One of the biggest treats of the week is her ballet class.

While verbal communication is a challenge for Elise, who has autism, dance frees her to fully express herself.

Elise takes classes at Ballet for All Kids in Encino. The studio, founded by Bonnie Schlachte, offers classical ballet lessons for boys and girls ages 2 and up with all abilities. Classes are also available in Westlake Village.

“Elise has gained so much confidence since starting this class,” says Jennifer Luna, Elise’s mom.

Ballet has many benefits for those with physical or developmental challenges. “It increases coordination, strength and flexibility,” says Schlachte, who attended the University of Maryland on a dance scholarship and has worked with people with developmental disabilities for 20 years, “but it also has tremendous developmental benefits. The parents tell us how much more self-regulated the kids are. They become more focused and do better in school and social situations.”

One of the most moving examples of the transformative power of ballet for Elise was at a party.

“Parties are typically very overwhelming for Elise,” says Luna. “But she brought her ballet DVD and just started dancing with it, and three other little girls joined her. It was wonderful to watch.”

Ballet for All Kids is working to raise funds for a UCLA study to help explore the benefits of dance therapy for kids with autism, and will host a Tutu Walk from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Nov. 2 at Serrania Park, 20864 Wells Dr., Woodland Hills. Registration is $10, free for ages 10 and younger.

Learn more at www.balletforallkids.com.

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