Dance partners: Philly students with disabilities learn tap from professionals

Tapping into trust and friendship, dancers ready their performance for Art-Reach’s 2018 Cultural Access Awards.

Laughter and taps echoed through the Fringe Arts theater Friday morning as five students from the Overbook School for the Blind and five professional dancers from Pennsylvania Ballet II rehearsed a tap dance piece for their performance at Art-Reach’s 2018 Cultural Access Awards Saturday.

The students and dancers, both new to the tap art, have practiced once a week since January while creating the original work. Choreographer and dance teacher Melissa Chassey, who based the work on the bonds and friendships she saw the group forming, aimed to capture that in a boisterous back-and-forth between the dancers and their student partners.

The organization believes that art is a human right, said Art-Reach deputy director Charlie Miller.

“We work to remove every barrier,” said Miller.

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During the dance, the students are led around the stage by their partners and lean onto them. Pa. Ballet II dancer Santiago Paniagua says this is a main feature of the show, everyone working together to create the experience.

Stephanie Algerin, a student at Overbook, wasn’t feeling nervous at rehearsal, but remembered how nervous she was when she started learning tap dance back in January. The costumes of the performance are T-shirts with inspirational messages printed on them.

“I can do this,” Stephanie’s shirt proclaims.

“I never thought I could do it, and look at me, I’m doing it,” she said. “We cannot see, or we got visual impairment, and it doesn’t mean that we cannot do it, just in a different way.”

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