The Marquette High Dazzlers dance team has been busy impressing sports audiences at football and soccer halftime performances this fall. Borne out of the desire to bridge the social gap between classmates off all abilities, the team features nine students with special needs and 19 Marquette Mystique dancers.
The team’s formation was a collective effort between SSD paraprofessional Janet Sansone and Kathy Larocco, whose daughter Lizzy is a Mystique dancer.
“This is actually an idea that was sparked back in October 2016, but didn’t really kick off with the Mystique members until this past June,” Sansone explained. “We needed to secure funding through Mystique parents and work on performance scheduling, which included a special homecoming pep rally performance.
“My vision was for kids with special needs to meet with the general education population. We wanted the special needs kids to have a place to socialize and form relationships. It has done that spectacularly.”
Lizzy, a junior, has been dancing with Mystique her entire high school career, but this dance team adds a new dimension to her dance experience.
“I love it,” Lizzy said. “It’s so nice to see the direct difference we’re making. We are forming new connections and we look forward to it every week.”
The Dazzlers, which include both junior varsity and varsity Mystique squad members, practice each Wednesday. One or two varsity dancers and one junior varsity dancer partner with each new dance buddy. Lauren is Lizzy’s buddy.
Marquette freshman Colton represents the smaller percentage of male Dazzler dancers. His buddy is Sarah, who is a senior this year.
“I like to dance and I like to perform,” Colton shared. “Sarah helps me dance.” But Sarah said Colton has hidden talents.
“He is very good at ‘the roll’ dance move. And he talks about how much fun he has and encourages the other guys so they don’t think it’s a girly thing to be part of our team.” Sarah said. “Most of all, though, he comes up with good team building games.”
The team building began in June with social activities to begin building trust, rapport and genuine friendships. An important piece of the team is forming ongoing relationships that are equally strong inside and outside of dance practices and performances.
Senior Maggie Chiszmarich co-captains the Dazzlers with junior Sadie Eggman. They are responsible for the program and choreographing the routines. For the fall sports season the Dazzlers performed the same 90-second routine during all halftime shows.
“When I heard about the program, I wanted to do it right away. I’m grateful for this experience my senior year,” Chiszmarich said. “They enrich my life and hopefully, I enrich theirs.”
If proof is evident by smiles, then the answer is yes, it’s mutually beneficial. The delight on the faces of Dazzler members is ever apparent and has spread from the Marquette gyms and playing fields to the high school hallways.
“The kids are having a wonderful time and blossoming socially. It’s wonderful to see the growth,” Chiszmarich said of her dance buddies. “Initially, we didn’t know their technical abilities so we plan to make the next routine more rigorous [for the basketball season]. We also now know which dance moves they really like and the kind of music they like, too.”
Eggman said, “It’s exciting to see how the program is working, We are giving students who wouldn’t normally have a chance to be involved in this way to be like the other kids. They have a chance to feel special.”
The Dazzlers will start performing during the halftime shows at junior varsity basketball games after Thanksgiving.