A Closer Look at the Pittsburgh Dance Center

Published On July 8, 2014 | By Madeline Weiss | Community

The documented therapeutic benefits of dancing add another layer of awesome to the work they’re doing down at the Pittsburgh Dance Center in Bloomfield. Owner Holly Dayton-Kirby, a professional ballroom dancer, developed the Embrace Dance Project after she was inspired to help those who might think they can’t be taught. She’s determined to ensure that participating students learn how to dance with confidence, and we got in touch with her to learn a little more about the work she’s doing at her local studio.

“Our amputee program was birthed over two years ago when a gentleman with a prosthetic leg came to the studio to inquire about dancing,” Holly says of the origin of the program. “He had been turned away elsewhere because of ‘too much risk.’ My motto is, if you can walk, you can dance. Confidently, I told him that some adaptations would have to be made but there was no doubt in my mind he was able to dance! We now service many amputees free of charge in group ballroom dance class settings.”

It all comes together with funds from other classes, t-shirts, and medical sponsors, a handicap accessible studio space, and volunteer efforts from the instructors. Truly a blessing to those who need it, the amputees or movement-impaired patients experience change in all aspects of their lives when their mobility and confidence is fostered. It’s clear that no one at the studio wants to leave anyone out, and they don’t limit themselves to high-profile gigs and glamorous routines. Holly and her team offer other adaptive classes for special needs dancers, hosting a class created for people with other handicaps and disabilities.
pittsburgh events pdc amputee

“We teach folks with Down syndrome how to dance. We do anything from ballet, tap, jazz, leaps, turns, ethnic dances, and, of course, the aerial silks. These students range in age from 4-25. They do need a little more time and nurturing than a typical peer so we gave them their own class. They love music and movement. They are very teachable and with a compassionate teacher they will do well. It builds confidence! It gets them moving, and we clap and cheer them on! It is one of my favorite classes to teach, and we hope to add more classes in the fall offering a more comprehensive dance program for them.”

pittsburgh events pdc 2Pittsburgh Dance Center teaches everything from ballroom dancing to aerial silks, making them the only place in Pittsburgh to offer classes teaching aerial silks and other circus acts. “The aerial program has been the best thing (next to our ballroom dance program). Seeing students progress into lovely aerialists is a marvelous ego boost for any teacher. In our opinion, we have the best and most comprehensive (and non-competitive) learning environment. All of our kids and adults get to try the silks at their level. We even teach it to our special needs class and you may see an occasional amputee have a go at the silks. It is an empowering sport. Along the way, we have trained ourselves on the static trapeze, lyra, and roman rings. We are able to offer that training as well in a group class. Every one loves to play circus with us!”

And they’re really on the map, as Pittsburgh Dance Center has hosted contestants from Dancing With The Stars. “We have hosted couples in the studio from Dancing With The Stars. Most were nice, but some were not! No surprise there. It can be an intense atmosphere when they are in ‘work mode,’ but we will welcome them anytime in the future. Picture-taking is off limits, so I have nothing to post. However, on air we did get a plug from the pros, as well as video clips of our studio in the background.” Even with the success at her studio, Holly remembers her roots. “I humbly try to give back as much as I can. I ask myself to ‘remember when…’ over and over. If any of the kids can’t pay, we make it work. I live 45 minutes from my own studio. I could have conveniently put my studio close to my house and been just as successful. But I chose to scramble through the traffic every day to service Bloomfield, where I lived till I was 30, and surrounding areas because it was a huge part of my life.”

If you’re interested in taking one of her one-of-a-kind aerial classes, Holly has some advice for you. “Be on time! We warm up and late comers may be turned away. Keep your expectations low for the first few classes. This is hard, folks! Wear form-fitting clothes, such as yoga pants. Be ready to be sore for a few days. After three years I still get quite sore. Take a multi-vitamin every day! Yes. I’m serious. While you are only pulling your own weight up the silks, most activities don’t require airborne moves like silks do. Your muscles need supplements. Our top pick is Centrum Daily with iron. Finally, make a commitment. It takes time to learn it all even if you are a skilled gymnast. It is nothing like you have ever done before. “

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