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Published: Monday, 8/19/2002

Dance movements enhance `healthy brain' behavior

From left, Alyson Sujkowski leads Devante Coleman, Stephen Swafford, and Joseph Sati- nas in a dance program that involves passing cloth flags at Harbor Behavioral Healthcare. From left, Alyson Sujkowski leads Devante Coleman, Stephen Swafford, and Joseph Sati- nas in a dance program that involves passing cloth flags at Harbor Behavioral Healthcare.

The dance class at Harbor Behavioral Healthcare's summer program goes far beyond ballet basics. Exercises like the “healthy brain” circle combine movement with life lessons.

Playing the part of neurotransmitters, students passed colored scarves in a circle until they were distracted by floating balloons and let the cloth fall to the gym floor.

“There's too many things in the brain, so the brain can't work right,” Kim Strole, the dance instructor, told her class. “Let's take out the junk that's not supposed to be in the brain.”

In a flurry of flailing limbs, the class kicked the balloons - representing smoking, drugs, excessive anger, and other bad habits - to the corner of the gym. The healthy brain chemicals, illustrated by silky scarves, were free to flow again through the ring of leaping children.

“When you do something physically, it has a new way of being processed so the kids can understand it,” Ms. Strole said.

This is the first year the class has been offered during the summer at the Mayfair Achievement Center, on Bennett Road. The program caters to students with emotional and behavioral problems.

The Toledo Ballet Association organizes the dance class, which is funded by corporate grants. The class, open to Lucas County youths, began Aug. 5 and culminates with a performance tomorrow. Students meet in two groups, one with fourth through eighth graders and another with high school students.

“You never know what will happen moment to moment, but at the end of the day, it's always worth it,” said Alyson Sujkowski, 19, a dance therapy student at Bowling Green State University who helps teach the class. “I think it's helping the kids, and even if it's not, at least they're having a good time.”

The class aims to provide children with a leisure activity that can make them feel good and encourage a healthy lifestyle, Ms. Strole said. Dance can also be an outlet for strong emotions and physical energy. The sessions are not always as calm as the Enya song that plays during warm-up stretches. Last week, a popped balloon led to tears and angry words, but by the end of the class, everyone was smiling and singing along to a reggae tune. “We have to constantly work on socialization skills,” Ms. Strole, a licensed social worker and dance teacher with the Toledo Ballet Association, said. “We try to reinforce positive behavior.”

In addition to practicing short routines, students make up their own dances, which promotes creativity. They also learn to use percussion instruments and create tie-dye costumes for their final performance.

Many of the 13 students in the dance class had never taken lessons before, so the program allowed them to try a new activity. “You get to do all sorts of new dances,” Stephen Swafford, 10, said. He wanted to learn some expert moves so he could go dancing with his mother.

Other students are old pros. Briana King, 11, took dance lessons a few months ago. “I like to do different steps everyday,” she said. “When I go home, I always practice.”

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