Monday, February 6, 2023

This dance program is offering a safe space for all types of students

The new Adaptive Dance program with the Virginia Regional Ballet Academy will start in September. (WYDaily/Courtesy Mountain Home Air Force Base)
The new Adaptive Dance program with the Virginia Regional Ballet Academy will start in September. (WYDaily/Courtesy Mountain Home Air Force Base)

A new dance program is coming to Hampton Roads with inclusivity, and fun, at its core.

“We have a love and passion for dance and for teaching children,” said Adelle Carpenter, studio director at the Virginia Regional Ballet Academy. “So I’m glad we are able to offer this to a group of people in our community that don’t have a whole lot of things for them.”

Carpenter is one of the leaders of VRBA’s new Adaptive Dance Program which is designed for students with autism, Down syndrome and physical disabilities.

VRBA has two studio locations, one in Williamsburg and one in Yorktown, she said. The idea for the program, which is for students between the ages of 6 and 17, came from seeing students with disabilities finding it difficult to keep up with more advanced age groups as they got older.

“We’ve had children with special needs and they love it when they’re young,” she said. “But then they’re seem to stay in the same place while students their age are progressing and they’re stuck with the children. We wanted a place for them to grow.”

To prepare for the class, Carpenter and the other instructors attended a certification course for adaptive dance programs with the Boston Ballet. She said they learned how to cater to each individual’s specific needs and abilities and then create a curriculum built from that foundation. 

Carpenter said an example of one of the techniques they learned is to start with a “brain dance” which takes different movements that activates their brain. This helps a lot of children with Down syndrome, she said, because they might typically have a hard time moving across their body. So this wakes up their areas and helps the connection between body and mind, she said.

“They really love music and are inspired to move in different ways and express themselves,” Carpenter said.

She said the class will be run by multiple instructors at one time as well as with the help of volunteers who have backgrounds in education, physical therapy and other related fields.

While the school has always been inclusive to those students, Carpenter said they wanted to give them a safe space where they could learn to grow in their skills at their own pace.

The program is also for people who might not have permanent disabilities. Those who use in crutches or have other issues related to an injury can also take part in the class while they heal. Carpenter said it can be an excellent form of getting physical activity while in recovery.

“I think it is a big part of self-expression and giving them power and movement during this time when they feel like they can’t do anything,” she said. “They feel limited and once they get into class they can think outside of the box.”

Carpenter said while the studios have not offered that type of class before, each of the instructors have worked with students with disabilities in some form in the past. 

The class meets once a week and is limited to eight students at each location for now — Carpenter said should there be a high demand, more classes will be put into the schedule.

Registration information can be found online. Carpenter said once a student is registered the studio will contact with the family to learn about any of the child’s special needs so instructors can make the class feel as safe and welcoming as possible.

“I feel very blessed to have the space to do it,” she said. “It is an honor to offer this to the community.”

Correction: The story’s previous headline stated the program is the first of its kind in Hampton Roads. This is incorrect and the headline has been change to reflect that.

Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at

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