A ballet teacher and her students are breaking ground with a dance class for students with limited ability to stand in the Madison area.
Jo Matzner, a dancer and former athlete who works as an instructor at the Kehl School of Dance, said in an email to The Badger Herald she thought of the idea after a serious illness left her bedridden for nearly two years. She saw the lack of available classes for dancers with limited mobility and sought to fill the need.
Matzner began teaching a seated ballet class in mid-January to introduce students to the joys of dance.
“We believe everyone who wants to dance should be able to learn how,” she said.
Matzner was inspired by New York dancer and choreographer Kitty Lunn, who shares a similar goal in bringing dance to people with limited mobility. While not identical, Matzner’s approach draws on many of the techniques developed by Lunn.
According to a release, the class is open to any student who uses an assistive device, such as a wheelchair, and has upper body mobility.
Sitting ballet requires the same movements as standing ballet, but all movement is limited to the upper body.
“Some of the technique I teach translates movements a standing dancer performs with his or her legs and feet to movement a sitting dancer performs with their arms and hands,” Matzner said.
Matzner said she specifically chose ballet as a starting point for sitting dance because ballet serves as the foundation for all Western dances and builds strength needed for all other dance styles. She said this core strength is important for everyone.
She also said medical professionals in the area have supported her efforts and have expressed a desire for even more classes of the same style.
Matzner said as of now, sitting ballet classes are offered at a beginning level and are open to any students who have good upper body mobility and who want to work on strength and flexibility by taking a dance class. Classes are offered to both children and adults, and standing ballet dancers are also welcome to enroll if they want to accompany a student who has mobility concerns, she said.
Matzner said she hopes to add sitting classes of various styles and difficulty levels as the dancers progress and the program gains momentum. She said she hopes to ultimately converge sitting and standing dance styles after sitting dancers learn enough ballet vocabulary and technique to feel comfortable in a standing dance class.
Matzner said although she has received only positive feedback from participants, the classes are still in their early stages. Matzner and the school are still trying to gauge the popularity of sitting ballet to decide whether or not to expand the program.
One of Matzner’s biggest concerns is not reaching the proper demographics. She said school-age children are most difficult to contact due to the lack of a central forum through which Kehl School can communicate these opportunities.
Matzner said she hopes to reach out to undergraduates and graduates at University of Wisconsin. She said if all goes well, dancers with mobility concerns from every skill level and area of Madison will be able to enjoy the artistic expression provided by sitting dance.
Correction: The language of this story has been updated to reflect that the class is open to anyone with mobility or health concerns.