Spend five minutes talking to Jenny Griffes, the performing arts director at the University City YMCA, and you'll immediately know why she "fell" into professional dance instruction.
Though she started her career as a journalist in the Midwest, Griffes, 43, is now getting ready to teach a class that incorporates the Brain Dance theory. Her class will be held in January at the Huntersville Arts and Cultural Center.
What makes the class particularly unique is that it caters to students ages 5 and up who have special needs.
Griffes first began working with special needs children at the University City YMCA. Her family had moved to Charlotte from Bloomington, Ill., where Griffes ran a day care center, and her own daughter started taking dance at the University City YMCA. Because of her volunteer involvement with her daughter's class, Griffes was eventually asked to oversee the program.
Though she has a passion for working with young people and dance, Griffes credits the now 12-year-old Haley Cook as her inspiration for wanting to work with special needs students.
Cook, who began taking classes with Griffes in 2003, lives with traumatic brain injury and cerebral palsy and has had more than 30 surgeries.
Over the years, Griffes has noticed a marked difference in Cook's development.
In fact, one of Cook's favorite parts of dance are the recitals.
Having worked with special needs dancers, Griffes was up for the challenge of working with Huntersville Parks and Recreation to hold a class that employs the Brain Dance technique. The technique is a warm up that incorporates eight exercises, which include breathing, skipping and crawling.
The exercises draw on the skills we learn in the first year of life and help increase blood flow and focus before students begin a regular dance class.
"Brain dance is a component of a lesson plan," said Griffes.
Griffes, though, is quick to add that Brain Dance, which was developed by Anne Green Gilbert, with whom Griffes spent two weeks in Seattle studying, is not just for students with special needs.
Nonetheless, the dance warm up has proven very successful with her students; Griffes says one of her Huntersville teenaged students, who has autism, showed "a lot of progress," which included her laughing out loud for the first time in a long time. The girl's parents even told Griffes that the dance class was the first activity to which their daughter had responded.
And that's a source of pride for the former editor.
"I believe I am now in the career that is intended for me," Griffes said. "I am just lucky that the opportunity became available when it did, to do something I am passionate about and can share with others. My path or journey to this destination may not have been typical, but I landed where I need to be all the same."
With the help of an Arts Council grant, Griffes and the Huntersville Parks and Recreation department were able to offer the class free of charge to students last year.
Without the grant this year, though, there is a $40 fee.