Ballerinas Step Away From Handicap

June 05, 1991|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — One little girl's wish has become a dream come true for five county students.

The girls -- all either mentally or physically handicapped -- performed in their second ballet demonstration Sunday in tutus and tights, fulfilling April Kurtz's desire to dance.

The dream began two years ago when April confided to Susan White-Bowden -- a former columnist for The Carroll County Sun -- that she wanted to be a ballerina when she grew up.

"When Susan wrote that in her column, we said, 'Why shouldn't (April) have the opportunity toparticipate as much as she can?' " said Barbara Gundina, therapeuticrecreation specialist with the Carroll County Therapeutic RecreationCouncil.

Council members recognized that although April's dream may not come true because she has cerebral palsy and walks with two canes, she and other children like her could become choreographers, costumers or work in other parts of the dance industry.

"This is an experience she can carry with her through adulthood that she could nothave had in a regular ballet class," said Gundina.

The search fora teacher ended when Gundina learned that Leslie Fauconnet had recently moved with her husband and family to Carroll. Classes

began inthe fall of 1989.

"I went out to find a ballet instructor who hadexpressly worked with disabilities," Gundina said. "When I called Howard and Montgomery counties, they said, 'You have Leslie right there.' "

Fauconnet, 30, a 1983 graduate of Butler University in Indianapolis with a bachelor of arts degree in dance, said she first taughthandicapped children as a independent study project her senior year of college.

"The students there were much more severely mentally and physically handicapped than these girls are," she said. "I just started out teaching like I taught a beginning ballet class, and, little by little, I'd find out what worked and what didn't."

When Fauconnet, a Silver Spring native, eventually returned to Maryland, she worked with handicapped children in Montgomery County.

Now she teaches the five girls -- April, 11; Nicki Hurley, 13; Megan Roland, 14; Annie Sturgeon, 12, and Tori Eshelman, 13 -- at 4:30 Thursdays at the Carroll County Education Center.

Beginning with exercises at the ballet barre, they eventually move to the center of the floor to do small jumps, leaps and arm movements.

"The most important thing is that (class) helps them conceive of themselves as artistic and creative," Fauconnet said. "They enjoy doing the movements just because they're fun, but also work and correct their mistakes."

During the class, the girls are taught the correct French terminology and some ballet history so they may eventually move into a community dance class, said Gundina.

Leslie "teaches the way it should be taught," said Gundina. "We give them the skills in this program to get into a regular program and mainstream them."

Not only are the students having fun, said Fauconnet and the girls' parents, but they are receiving thesame benefits any young dancer would get from class.

"They've gained what any traditional student would get," said Peggy Roland, Megan's mother. "They have gained poise, confidence and more self-discipline."

Debbie Kurtz said her daughter, April, has also strengthened her leg muscles through the exercises.

"It's helped her balance more than any other program," she said. But the parents said what makesthem most happy is how Fauconnet helps her students achieve the mostthey can.

"Leslie has done very well," said Sue Hurley, Nicki's mother. "She treats them like there's not a handicap there, and what she expects is what they give her. She's very persistent and sticks with them."

For information on the program, call 857-2103.

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