Dancing is the best medicine
For the last 10 years, dance and Pilates instructor Vicky Luff has been visiting the East London branch of the Down Syndrome Association giving (DSA) dance classes to kids and adults with Down syndrome.
"It all started when the DSA approached me after seeing advertisements for my annual Dance Academy. I love dance and if there is someone else who enjoys it too then why not share it with them, especially when that someone may not have the opportunity to experience it otherwise," said Luff, owner and instructor at The Dynamic Body Studio.
Luff teaches almost 20 children and adults with Down syndrome every month and over the years has managed to expose the youngsters to Zumba, ballet and even belly-dancing by bringing other teachers on board.
"The absolute joy on their faces when they dance is wonderful. They may not always be doing the steps right but we just laugh together and have a whole lot of fun," said Luff.
Established in 1996, the organisation runs various workshops, early intervention seminars, support groups and outreach programmes in and around East London for individuals with Down syndrome and their parents.
"We do a lot of self advocacy, and skills training to try and give the people with Down syndrome some independence. Once they turn 18 and graduate from schools such as Kayalethu or Parklands, these young adults don't have anywhere to go, so many of them end up sitting at home," said DSA East London branch director Denise Taylor.
"Vicky's dance classes and our monthly meetings give the youngsters and adults a wonderful opportunity to interact and socialise with each other in a fun setting."
Working hard in their last few lessons, Luff and her dancers are preparing to put on a show at DSA's annual high tea fundraiser next month. "This year we're going to be dancing to This is Me from the Greatest Showman which I thought was quite apt.
"Yes, they are different and there often isn't a place for so-called imperfections in society and in dance, but why we can't just dance? Not to be perfect, just to enjoy it. These youngsters are who they are and it's humbling to see them perform with confidence and just have fun," said Luff.
Luff said that managing a class and catering to everyone can be a challenging task, but the happiness that fills the room is worth all the effort.
"There is one young girl who doesn't enjoy loud music or moving and standing very close to people, but she loves being there and seeing what's going on. On the other hand, there's one student who stands at the front with me, almost as if he's giving the class, so it's difficult to manage that sometimes," said Luff.
"Some love movement and can follow me easily, others take a little time. You just have to be patient and go with the flow."