“They’re helping students build life skills, like participating in conversations, goal setting, and building friendships,” said Stephanie Yellin, DO, CAQSM, a Penn Medicine Sports Medicine physician. “Dancing gives them a platform to be able to do that.”
For some individuals with cognitive and physical impairments, it can be difficult to comfortably participate in social settings due to difficulty sustaining attention or feeling overwhelmed by shyness. The two-time Penn Medicine CAREs grant recipient Ballroom Dancing For A Better U (BD4BU) creates an inclusive and safe environment where individuals can build confidence and skills through the power of dance.
Yellin learned about the organization through one of her patients, Maryann Kelly, who had been taking dance lessons for more than five years at LaPierre Ballroom Dance Studio in South Jersey, which hosts BD4BU classes. After being invited and attending one of BD4BU’s events, watching the students excitedly perform their ballroom dance routines, Yellin knew she wanted to be involved.
Ballroom dancing allows students to use their senses and have a shared experience with others as a group, according to Gene LaPierre, director of BD4BU.
“They’re using sound to listen to the music and to communicate with their partner, sight for learning the steps, and touch for holding onto their partner and feeling the rhythm to inspire movement on the dance floor,” LaPierre said.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, BD4BU halted their classes, shifting to online sessions to keep its students motivated and moving. LaPierre and his team also hosted a Studio Virtual Showcase, allowing students to record their dances alone in the studio, to follow social distancing protocols, which were then edited into a virtual variety show for students and their families to watch.
As COVID-19 restrictions continue to lift, BD4BU has returned to in-person classes, now eagerly preparing for their annual Equality Ball, a competition for all of LaPierre’s students, both students in BD4BU and other classes, to dance together and show off their waltz, fox trot, and other ballroom dance styles.
The latest CAREs grant that Yellin received in the spring of 2021 supports the Equality Ball’s costuming, transportation, and food for BD4BU students in need of financial assistance, in addition to medals and trophies for awarding the students’ excellent work and collaboration.
“We appreciate all that Dr. Yellin and Penn Medicine CAREs has been able to do for us to help us move forward and grow as an organization,” Kelly said. “There is so much more work to do to allow joy and happiness for all.”