I have been searching high and low for a wonderful and affordable musical theater class for kids in Orange County. I didn’t even know that Segerstrom Center For the Arts, the same theater that hosts Broadway shows in Orange County, also offers musical theater, dance, and ballet classes on site. Not only can kids ages 4 to 22 learn how to dance, sing and act, but these classes are geared for children with special needs and their typically developing peers.
My daughters tried out the “Musical Theater Matters” class for kids of all abilities ages 7 through 11. They made an exception for LittleSage (age 4) because she really likes Charlie Brown, this session’s theme. The classes cap off at 10 students and all abilities are welcome. Each class is taught by three teachers: the Director/Music instructor Ms. Cynthia, the Choreographer/Dance Instructor Ms. Ashley, and the Therapist Ms. Brittany. In addition to the three instructors, there are 8 student peer volunteers from OCSA (Orange County School of the Arts). This allows each child to have an older buddy to partner with one-on-one. In our class, there was a variety of cognitive disabilities, physical disabilities (wheel chairs and leg braces), Autism, and Down Syndrome. Even though my daughters do not have a physical or cognitive disability, every child was treated equally. After our first class, I came to three big reasons why every child should participate in an inclusive class for all abilities.
Squash the need for “One size fits all perfection”
When I was little, I spent most of my time at my ballet academy. There were several times where I felt pressured to be the same cookie cutter perfection that is commonly associated with ballerinas. I’ve been apprehensive about putting my daughters into a dance program because I didn’t want them to feel at same level of pressure. During the Musical Theater Matters class, I realized that all the kids were working to the best of their abilities, and their version of “perfect” all looked different. Some kids were slower to do dance moves while others performed with rigid perfection. This took the pressure off my children to look or perform a certain way.
Learn Patience and Adaptability
Since their new friends had some physical limitations like being in a wheelchair or having leg braces, the kids had to creatively think of a way where everyone could be involved. They also learned to be patient if a friend is having a rough time stemming or attending to the teacher. This experience normalized these behaviors so they wouldn’t be perceived as “weird” or “scary” when they encounter them again.
Inclusion and Exposure to Kids with Different Abilities
I am a strong believer that the heart beats stronger for things that one has a direct experience with. One of my goals is to raise my children to have open minds and open hearts. On an every day bases, we probably wouldn’t have many experiences with children with disabilities. Through “Musical Theater Matters”, my kids have an opportunity to get to know kids who might not look like them. If you want your kids to be compassionate about kids with all abilities, give them opportunities to be along side them.
At the end of the session, the class learned an entire number with lyrics, choreography, and staging. Each child was affirmed at the beginning and the end of the session with individualized praise and attention. Improv and movement games were played at all levels of abilities. Honestly, my typically developing daughters didn’t feel that they were any different than their peers with special needs. This 10 week session is only $200, which makes it a steal at just $20 a class. It takes place every Monday from 5:45-6:45. To register, you can visit scfta.org for more information.