Many parents with children on the autism spectrum will say that one of the biggest challenges they’ve faced while on their autism journey is getting their child to be physically active. Not only does autism affect a child’s ability to function “normally” in typical social settings, but the disorder also affects a child’s fine motor skills and coordination, making exercise and physical activity — especially group activities — all the more difficult. For an autism parent, this means having to find creative and alternative ways to get our kiddos up and moving. That’s exactly what our program, Dancing on the Spectrum, aims to do!
Created by nationally recognized dancer turned instructor, Michele Mirisola, Dancing on the Spectrum is a dance studio here at We Rock the Spectrum where kids of all abilities are invited to learn, play, and grow through the magic of dance. In an interview with Michele, we learn more about our rockin’ instructor and found out what inspired her to start Dancing on the Spectrum and what she hopes the kiddos gain from it.-
“It was like I could dance before I could walk,” Michele Mirisola says about the earliest days of her dancing career, “so it’s been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember.”
Since then, that passion has taken her far — from New York City to study under renowned dance instructor, Charles Russell of The Joffery Ballet, to performing at events, recitals, and parades all over the country.
Through the years with these experiences under her belt, Michele realized that her next calling was to share her passion with others. Thus, she sought out to be an instructor herself. After studying with Dance Educators of America in New York City, Michele was licensed to be an instructor and the rest was history. She would spend the next 15 years teaching all genres of dance — from jazz to hip hop to ballet — to children of all ages.
Michele’s experience with the special needs community is a deeply personal one — her cousin has Down syndrome. It was when Michele noticed that dance, an activity that brought her so much joy and excitement, wasn’t so easy for her cousin that she knew she wanted to do something to help.
“[My cousin] would see me dance and she’d want to do the same,” Michele says. “It just didn’t come as easily to her and there were so many more hurdles for her to overcome.”
Not only is dancing physically more challenging for an individual with special needs, but being in a room with dozens of other people can be intimidating, uncomfortable, and send many kids with special needs into a meltdown.
“That’s when I had the idea for Dancing on the Spectrum. Dancing is a great emotional release and an excellent way to express yourself, and everyone deserves that.”
At Dancing on the Spectrum, personal development is the goal. Being in a room full of other people can be extremely intimidating for our kiddos, but Dancing on the Spectrum aims to instill confidence in each of them by creating an environment where they’re free to express themselves just as they’d like — without fear or judgment.
“The classes are fun and interactive and the kids are encouraged to use their imagination.” Michele says, “Some of my students even call it ‘jumping class’ because they love the part where they count and jump.”
Since Dancing on the Spectrum started, Michele’s noticed so many of her students go from being quiet and reserved to slowly coming out of their shell to being able to perform with amazing confidence. Personal growth in any way is never discounted. For one of Michele’s students, even getting him to wear a hat was an accomplishment, as any autism parent out there will tell you how fussy it can be to get our kids to wear or try something new. Some students start out very shy and nervous and eventually go on to be able to perform in front of others at holiday shows.
Dancing on the Spectrum sessions are held once a week and are one hour long. Dance camps are also available during the summer, winter, and Easter holidays. The children are independent during the session and the general age range is between potty-trained and 15. To learn more about Dancing on the Spectrum, check out Michele’s website, www.dancingonthespectrum.com!
To sign up your kiddos, call We Rock the Spectrum at (561) 218-0128.