It’s obvious when you meet Matthew Brotherwood and his mother, Sue, that dance is their passion.
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The mother-son duo has been dancing for decades — in fact, Matthew’s recalls going to classes ever since he was a child.
“I was dancing in my stroller as I was watching her [teach her dance classes],” he told Global News.
“It brings me happiness. It’s fun to dance with people.”
Sue has been a dance teacher for “ages,” having studied at the London School of Contemporary Dance; she also has a background as an educator and occupational therapist.
Now living in Montreal, Sue’s inspiration to combine her skills to teach children with special needs stems from having Matthew 33 years ago.
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“I would see his love of dancing and music and then at a couple of other places, there were children with Down syndrome and I thought, ‘I have to do this,'” she told Global News.
“They get to a certain age and they can’t keep up. They’re two or three steps behind, so when all the dancers are one way, they’re still on the other side and then they don’t do it anymore.”
She now teaches at Les Grands Ballets Canadiens at the National Centre for Dance Therapy, giving people with special needs the freedom to express themselves however they want.
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“It makes me feel comfortable to show my feelings in dancing,” Matthew said.
“When I dance to express my feelings to other people, it’s more open. it makes me feel good inside to dance.”
Some of the dance classes include:
- Ballet for people living with Down syndrome
- Ballet for people living with autism
- Ballet for people living with intellectual impairments
- Parkinson in movement
- Dance for seniors
- Tango for couples
- Cognitive stimulation through dance and movement
- Facilitated movement
- Dance therapy for parents and caregivers
- Dance therapy for stress reduction
- Dance for chronic pain
Sue explains the benefits for children with Down syndrome — both physically and emotionally — are exponential.
“The shy ones are really coming out and communicating much more,” she told Global News.
“The ones that are very outgoing, they’re learning, ‘OK there is someone else, it’s someone else’s turn to dance,’ so they’re also learning that they have to share their space with someone else.”
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Sue points out dance therapy for people with special needs is a concept that is very prevalent in Europe — she’s originally from the U.K. — but it’s almost unheard of in Canada.
“I think we are the only ones here in Canada. I think so, of dance therapy,” she said.
Her goal is to show people that, just because some people live with special needs, it doesn’t mean that they are limited in their lives.
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“What I would like to see is for some of the students to continue on and perform. We had one little boy who was a mouse in The Nutcracker, which was really cute and he did really well,” Sue said.
“That’s what I would love — to have them out there and performing and saying, ‘hey, we’re like everybody else. You might stare at us because we look slightly different, but we’re really not.'”