BAE faculty member and head of the Adaptive Dance Program, Mackenzie Fey, shares her thoughts on the new program.
Leisa DeCarlo: Please tell us about your ballet/dance background.
Mackenzie Fey: I started taking ballet lessons at the age of four, and immediately fell in love. I asked my mom to sign me up and get me the pink tights and leotard right away! After many years of training, my final years of which were at BAE, I started my professional career. Presently, I dance with Ballets with a Twist, which is a touring company based in NYC, and I teach in the Children’s Division at Ballet Academy East, as well as lead their Adaptive Dance Program.
LD: What is your experience with Adaptive Dance? How did your interest in teaching Adaptive Dance begin?
MF: I was invited to assist with some adaptive dance classes when Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School piloted its program there in 2016. At that time, I was in their graduate trainee program and teaching for PBTS. Later, I became a co-teacher for the adaptive program and got some continuing education through partners with the school. I had never heard of adaptive dance before then, but my passion for it quickly grew from the first class. It was incredible to see the kids progress and to see the families build connections and community with each other.
LD: How does the Adaptive Dance Program differ from other dance programs for children? Can you take us through a typical class?
MF: An adaptive dance class is simply a dance class with adaptations and modifications that remove roadblocks for children with disabilities. This means they can take breaks if needed, move around the classroom a bit more freely, and get more one-on-one assistance from me and my amazing assistant Alexa Ratini. I structure my classes very similarly to my Children’s Division classes. We warm up and stretch, then practice specific ballet steps, move across the floor, and finish with a creative movement activity.
LD: What do you feel your students gain most from their adaptive dance experience? Are there other benefits to development that you observe through your lens as the teacher? Do you find that your students find joy in dance as an opportunity for creative expression?
MF: Not only do the students make physical progress, which is amazing, but they’re also building friendships and getting to socialize with a group of kids their age. My current group all love the music our pianist/drummer Rich plays. They really enjoy moving to the beat and exploring the instruments before class.
LD: Are you able to foster social interactions within the class? Do you feel a sense of community building amongst your Adaptive Dance families?
MF: This is one of my big goals for the class! I certainly hope that our amazing parents and families are feeling at home. They do a wonderful job of jumping in if their child needs to take a break, but also really letting them be independent and navigate the class on their own. I see that every week the children become more and more confident and comfortable in the classroom, and with each other.
LD: Can you share with us a special story or breakthrough that stands out to you?
MF: One of my previous teen adaptive students was amazing at following along with class and really enjoyed moving and expressing herself through the music, but she was having trouble with some of the bigger ballet steps that required more gross motor skills. One day, something just clicked, and she nailed a series of chassés with no problem. It was like all the puzzle pieces fell into place and I and the other teachers were practically jumping for joy! It taught me that repetition and patience are everything. Even if a student isn’t getting something right away, with a little time and the right approach things will come together.
LD: Why is BAE a good fit for an Adaptive Dance Program?
MF: BAE is a home away from home for so many young dancers. Many start with us as young as 18 months old. The teachers are mentors in and out of the classroom, and the community here feels like a family. I really enjoy the comradery between all our amazing staff and the warm relationships we share with our students. I love that we’re able to grow our community to even more families with the Adaptive Dance Program.