Partnership with Solo Expressions
Dance classes enhance community supports program
A serendipitous partnership is changing the lives of the young adults in our community supports program who live in the Lehigh Valley. Cynthia Phillips, Director of Community Supports Programs, made a connection with Anthony Harris, Founder & Dance Instructor of Solo Expressions, when she was in search of an activity during the winter that would get participants active. Anthony’s passion for dance and commitment to serving the disability community was a natural match.
Harris provides daily dance classes for individuals enrolled in the Community Supports program at his studio, Solo Expressions, in Allentown. “Anthony’s dance classes have been a game-changer for these young adults, some of whom are non-verbal. He encourages them to express themselves through movement freely. They are 100% engaged as shown through their facial expressions. The students are not only exercising, but they are also connecting with their peers and learning in a community environment,” says Phillips. She adds, “We are thrilled with Anthony and the impact he is having on our program. This summer, he is also teaching classes at Camp Lily Lehigh Valley, our summer day camp.”
For individuals with developmental disabilities, dance can positively impact attention span, memory, ability to follow instructions, and physical strength and coordination. Dance is a powerful therapy because of its sensorimotor integration. It highlights expressing emotions and ideas through individual movements and requires participants to control their bodies while simultaneously participating in group movement. Dance encourages healthy well-being.
“Everyone has grown since the start of these classes. They have overcome shyness and learned to trust me. I started adding complex movements, which they are not only keeping up with but showing their confidence in doing so,” says Harris. “I can see them doing performances and competitions.”
Harris began dancing at age 13. By age 18, he danced professionally with the legendary ENVY dance group out of Newark, NJ. As life progressed, Harris wanted a more sustainable career after his daughter’s birth. He was encouraged to work with children, so he began working with Bonnie Brae, an all-boys facility for children with at-risk behaviors and developmental disabilities. From there, he went onto Sevita (formerly Mentor), an in-home and community health care company. “Working at Bonnie Brae was great training working with children with emotional challenges. It prepared me for what I do today,” says Harris.
While Harris was involved in his work life, he always kept dance close. He taught dance in studios throughout NJ since 2008. In August 2021, he opened the Solo Expressions dance studio to provide access to everyone. “I never thought I would receive so much fulfillment. There are times I need to hold back tears as I witness what the students are trying to figure out and what they are saying through dance,” says Harris.