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Dance lessons make physical therapy a treat for five young girls

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Participants have experienced a delay in gross motor skills

From left to right, Ellie Ragland, Alexis Morgan, Andrea Smith, Emily Short and Isabella Fowler
Participants in the 12-week WellSpan pediatric outpatient rehabilitation dance class are, from left to right, Ellie Ragland, Alexis Morgan, Andrea Smith, Emily Short and Isabella Fowler. Physical therapist Jennifer Gazan led the class.


Emily Short is a four-year-old with spastic cerebral palsy. Alexis Morgan is five and struggles with autism. But for three minutes in December, they were crowd-pleasing ballerinas.

Their brief dance recital took place at WellSpan York Hospital.

Emily, Alexis, and three classmates, Isabella Fowler, Ellie Ragland and Andrea Smith, performed to a Disney song in front of an audience of thirty friends and family members.

The girls spent 12 weeks practicing for this special day, and when it was over they basked in the cheers and applause.

“They were so excited,” said physical therapist Jennifer Gazan of WellSpan pediatric outpatient rehabilitation. “Their faces were shining, and they were giving everyone hugs.”

Gazan created the dance class in September 2013 to make physical therapy more enjoyable, increase the students’ self-confidence and motivate them to participate more in their therapy.

“Every kid has something that motivates them, and you have to find what that motivation is,” she explained.

For these five little girls, it was dance lessons. Suddenly, therapy was fun. The girls became fast friends, delighting each other by wearing princess and ballerina costumes to class.

All the girls have experienced a delay in gross motor skills, and they need to work on improving their balance and coordination. It would have been difficult for the girls to participate in a regular, community-based dance class.

“She was always very shy,” said Emily’s mother, Theresa Short. “I never saw her so outgoing and personable as when she got to the class. Every day she would be asking, ‘When is dance therapy?’”

Alexis’s mother, Tarisa Morgan, agreed. “Once Alexis had friends with her she was more willing to try new things, and to keep trying if she couldn’t do it. Some of the things—like standing on one foot—I’ve never seen her do. I was just overwhelmed.”

As the recital drew near, the girls ramped up their focus. Gazan knew it was a good sign.

“You really have to get them to buy in to what you’re doing, so that they’ll follow through at home,” she said. “The girls were eager to learn and practiced at home.”

The big day finally arrived. After a last minute rehearsal, the room grew quiet. Cameras flashed and video rolled. The girls began their routine.

“As parents, we talked before hand about what we hoped would happen,” said Morgan. “But I think it exceeded all our expectations.”

Everyone celebrated with an after-party featuring cupcakes. The girls laughed and chatted.

“They were very proud of what they had accomplished,” Gazan said. “The class exceeded my expectations.”

A new ballerina class began in January. Gazan is also considering a program for boys, perhaps with a truck theme. It’s all about motivation, she says.

Meanwhile, Morgan can’t stop talking about the difference she sees in Alexis. “A year ago, I would have never thought she could make this kind of progress.”

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