Jenna Lyon is no ordinary college student.
Lyon is a junior education major at University of Kentucky, but she’s already a teacher to 22 dance students who have special needs in her program called A Chance to Dance.
Students range in age from 5 to 24 right now and are broken up into two classes—one for younger students and one for older students.
“I haven’t limited the class to any specific age,” Lyon said.
And people with a variety of disabilities, such as autism, Down syndrome, and with learning disabilities, participate in the program.
The students learn jazz, ballet, hip-hop and even have some say in what they learn.
Lyon teaches A Chance to Dance students at Barbara Ann’s School of Dance (BASD) in Lexington, but it all started with four students in Georgetown.
Lyon herself has been in dance classes throughout her life, practicing “a little bit of everything.”
“I grew up dancing. I started dancing when I was about 3 (years old),” Lyon said.
She’s studied ballet, jazz, contemporary and she danced on Scott County High School’s pom and dance teams.
“Probably my favorite style of dance was jazz,” Lyon said.
As Lyon got older, she didn’t have as much time to devote to dance but didn’t want to give it up completely.
“I’m getting to share my passion with students,” Lyon said.
As a junior at Scott County High School, Lyon started teaching Georgetown residents Anna Juett, Will Robeson, Cody Dickerson and one other student whose parents did not want him identified. When she moved on to UK, she didn’t want to stop teaching her class.
BASD was happy to let Lyon continue her dance lessons there on Sundays for free. Since that time, it’s grown to the 22 students she has now.
“They learn the same ballet terminology and jazz terminology” and the same moves as other students Lyon teaches throughout the week at BASD.
“I think sometimes when kids are labeled with special needs some people just feel like they don’t have the abilities and capabilities that other kids do, but really they just have all the same capabilities and it might just take them a little extra time and practice,” Lyon told UK.
Lucy Harding, one of Lyon’s dance students, agrees.
“You know lots of people throughout my life like in school have told me you can’t, that I can’t do things or that I’m not good enough,” Harding told UK. “Jenna makes me feel like I can do those things and that I am, you know, worth something.”
The students also get to participate in a holiday and spring recital each year. One performance is ballet and the other is either jazz or hip-hop.
Her four original students even entered a competition.
“The kids got to perform on stage and got a standing ovation,” Lyon said.
Each of them received their own trophies, which they loved, Lyon added.
Lyon hopes her larger class can soon compete and feel the same sense of accomplishment her four original students felt in competition, she said.
Lyon gets plenty of help from her mom, brother, sister, boyfriend, friends and assistants, who are usually students from other classes.
“I try to pair them one-on-one with my assistants,” Lyon said. “They make everything possible… I am really appreciative of the people who come and volunteer their time.”
Lyon doesn’t yet have any certifications so her mom, a certified speech therapist, helps out by coming to every class.
Many students have started to depend on the class every week.
“It’s just part of their weekly routine to come to dance class every Sunday,” Lyon said.
The class seems to make a major difference in their lives, improving their communication and social skills. In short, they love it.
“They’re not just dancing in the studio,” Lyon said.
No one gets paid and even using the BASD space is free. Costumes and shoes are provided through donations. And the class costs nothing to participants, Lyon said.
“When I originally started it I really wanted to make sure that money wasn’t an issue for any family,” she said.
Lyon and her volunteers hope to turn A Chance to Dance into a non-profit so it can expand even more.
“It’s a long and difficult process but we’re working on it,” Lyon said.
For now, donations in checks made out to A Chance to Dance can be sent to BASD at 898 East High Street, Lexington, KY 40502.
kelli stokes can be reached at email@example.com.