Emerald City Dance Explosion owner Suzy Shaw, Optimum Life Center Physical Therapist Emily Burch and Greenwood County School District 50 Speech Therapist Dru Robinson envisioned a program in which students with physical or mental limitations had an unlimited amount of fun — and dance moves.
Emerald City Dance Explosion put on an all-star-caliber performance at Lander University’s Sproles Building. The performers of the production were special students with a need to get down. Shaw opened her studio 19 years ago, but dancing and her affection for special needs students have always been dear to her heart, harkening back to when she was a little girl.
Growing up, Shaw’s older brother, Charlie — a would-be professional dancer — befriended a little boy named David who suffered from Tetra-amelia syndrome, a rare disorder that is characterized by the absence of both arms and legs. David aspired to be a dancer, and he got his opportunity when he was cast in his school’s rendition of the Nutcracker. Shaw’s paying forward what David’s theater teacher did, and she’s bestowing the same opportunity to special needs students in Greenwood.
The All Star program gives “dancers of all physical and mental abilities the opportunity to participate in an all-inclusive, sensory-friendly dance class,” the Emerald City Dance Explosion website says.
“Dancing is inside of you. It’s not a physical thing. It’s who you are,” Shaw said. “If something was to happen to me, it doesn’t change that I’m a dancer.”
Shaw didn’t have to search far for a partner. Burch, a former dance student of Shaw, moved back to Greenwood after she finished medical school.
The two have known each other since Burch waltzed into Emerald City Dance Explosion when she was in seventh grade. Burch and Shaw had talked about the idea of the inevitably titled “All Star” program for years, but the timing wasn’t right. But the addition of Robinson was the piece to the puzzle they needed.
“Now that we have this team of Suzy on the dance side — me from the medical side and Dru from the academic side — it’s the trio to make it happen,” Burch said. “We’ve got all aspects to make this a successful program.”
Robinson joined Shaw and Burch because dance is a form of communication everyone understands, and it catered to the needs of special needs students outside of school.
“Any kind of gross motor movement that you can do, like dance, gives them an experience where they are just going to be able to have more verbalization,” Robinson said.
The students were accompanied by the Lander University Rockettes. The student organization contributed philanthropically by buddying with the students and helping them get their moves down for the past seven weeks.
“We just wanted to reach out to the community and join and bring enjoyment to these kids,” Lander Rockettes President Abby Silon said.
Silon knew what dance did for her when she was kid. It gave her another family, and she wanted to make sure the students had their own dance family.
The students had their dance family dancing with them, and their actual family in the stands cheering them on.
“My daughter is Elizabeth and she’s in a wheelchair. She has watched her big sister’s dance recitals all her life, and this has been her one opportunity to participate and be in the dance herself,” Anna Dominick said.
Shaw, Burch and Robinson plan to do another performance next year, but on a bigger stage. The kinks still have to be worked out first to ensure the students’ safety.
“There’s no reason that dance shouldn’t be a part of everybody,” Shaw said.