Dance Studio Helps Teen With Down Syndrome Shine on Stage

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ALLEMAN, Iowa -- It’s a busy week for a group of Polk City dancers as they get ready for the biggest performance of the year.

This Saturday is the yearly dance recital for a Polk City studio, and one number features a 15-year-old who shines when she takes the stage.

Mom Diane Hammond said, "It's Madison's passion, and you can just tell. She smiles, and she's laughing and just loves it."

Madison Hammond has been dancing since she was three. It’s hard not to smile when she takes the stage. Fellow dancer Melaina Selof, 12, said, "She always has a smile on her face. She's a lot of fun to dance with."

Madison has Down Syndrome. She doesn’t talk much, but that doesn’t matter on stage. Ashlee Waithanji, Ashlee’s Creative Arts Academy Owner, said, "We don't communicate by words at all, just by dancing."

Madison joined Ashlee’s Creative Arts Academy in Polk City four years ago, and the class she attends was made just for her. Her mom said, "It's called Maddie's class."

"It's kind of on Maddie's schedule, so whatever Maddie is feeling that day is what we work on, and somehow we get it all together,” said Waithanji.

Waithanji started the class to make Madison the star of the show and work on her skills. "We don't know what Maddie is fully capable of. We just keep pushing her every year we've pushed her. I think the kids, this year, especially have pushed her hard," she said.

Three girls joined the class the first year. 11 are a part of it now. They all volunteer to practice once a week for 30 minutes. Selof said, "She gives the world's biggest hug. She always brightens everybody's day."

Dancer Olivia Warner said, “My brother is friends with her, so I've known her for a long time, and I just like hanging out with her."

Maidson’s mom says she’s really blossomed.  "It really just gives me goose bumps. When you have a child with a disability, your hope is they will be loved and accepted, but also believed in and people will believe they are competent and capable, and that's what Madison is. So for Ashlee to see that in her, it's pretty overwhelming, to be honest.”

Ashlee’s Creative Arts Academy’s recital is Saturday at North Polk High School. The shows are at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.

In addition to her class number, Maddie will also appear in the finale this year.

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