UW-Eau Claire students host new dance program for children with disabilities

P.R.I.D.E. dance program is first of its kind in the community

Toby Mohr

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November 22, 2022
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“There’s a huge need for programs for individuals with disabilities,” Ollila said. “It’s an underserved group of people and I wanted to provide this program in Eau Claire.”

Kinesiology students are providing a program unlike any other in the community by holding dance classes for children with disabilities.

The new program is a part of Physical activity and Recreation for Individuals with Disabilities in Eau Claire, known as P.R.I.D.E., and includes weekly classes leading up to a dance recital on April 18 at the Pablo Center at the Confluence in downtown Eau Claire. 

Baille Ollila, a third-year kinesiology student, started the program in Eau Claire after volunteering at a similar program in her hometown. 

“There’s a huge need for programs for individuals with disabilities,” Ollila said. “It’s an underserved group of people and I wanted to provide this program in Eau Claire.”

The program serves 12 children ages 6-16 and practices are held every Monday night led by Ollila and a group of student volunteers from the kinesiology department.  

Ollila said she loves working with the kids and seeing them grow. 

“At the start of practices they were all unsure how to begin,” she said. “Now they feel confident in their movements and in themselves as people.”   

Dr. Tara Putnam, assistant professor of kinesiology and a faculty director of the program, said the program is all about gaining “Confi-dance.”

Putnam said both participants and volunteers have become more confident and found ways to express themselves through dance.

“Our volunteers are wonderful,” Putnam said. “They have become really connected with their participants and love working with them.”

Putnam said she got involved with the program because of her love for dance and because she wants to ensure the university keeps the program going after Ollila graduates. 

“Baille has built a great partnership between the university, the Pablo Center at the Confluence and the community,” she said. “It is the faculty’s goal to keep the program going and to keep it student led.” 

Ollila said the response from the community has been extremely positive with the Pablo Center at the Confluence donating the space to hold practices every week and the RCU Theater for the recital on April 18.

Diamond Dance Studio provided a 50% discount on dance shoes for the program and local schools provided registration information to their students.

The community has also supported fundraisers for the program as the dance program is held at no cost to the participating families.

“I hope a program like this pushes other businesses to include services and programs for individuals with disabilities,” Ollila said. 

Putnam said she appreciates the partnership between the program and the community and hopes it is the first of many programs like it.

“This program is great for the community,” she said. “Our community is really underserved for opportunities for both kids and adults with disabilities.”

The recital will be held in the RCU Theater at the Pablo Center at the Confluence at 6:30 p.m. on April 18. All ticket sales and donations will go towards funding the program next year and providing costumes, dance shoes and other equipment for participants in next year’s program. 

Mohr can be reached at [email protected]