Student makes a difference by teaching dance

Leyla Shapiro, a junior at the University of Miami, virtually taught Latin ballroom dancing to students with disabilities.

By Ashley A. Williams

Leyla Shapiro, a junior at the University of Miami, virtually taught Latin ballroom dancing to students with disabilities.

Student makes a difference by teaching dance

By Ashley A. Williams
Leyla Shapiro, a junior at the University of Miami, spent her summer virtually giving instructions on Latin ballroom dancing to students with disabilities.

Many college students have had to readjust and reimagine their summer plans because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Leyla Shapiro, a junior at the University of Miami didn’t have to search far for her plans this summer. After she received a call two months ago from the director of Area Stage Company’s Inclusion Theatre Project, a local performing arts theater in South Miami, she began to teach Latin ballroom dancing to students with disabilities from her home in Brookline, Massachusetts. 

“I volunteered for the company in the spring before the pandemic doing whatever they needed,” said Shapiro, a communication studies major with a minor in dance. “When I received a text from the director saying she’d like me to teach a summer camp on Zoom, I was super excited because the internship I had planned got cancelled.” 

Since age nine, Shapiro has trained as a Latin ballroom dancer. But teaching her own course was unchartered territory that she took on with enthusiasm. 

“At first, it all felt like it was going to be a challenge. But I remembered the helpful techniques I learned from my methods of dance teaching class, as well as my dance therapy class, taught by Professor Carol Kaminski,” said Shapiro. 

Shapiro’s students ranged from ages 18 to 50-something and were “all like best friends because ITP has created such an inclusive community for them to gather and have fun,” she said. Since 2014, the one-of-a-kind program has provided a space for students with developmental and intellectual disabilities to expand their talents.

“A typical day of class included me taking attendance, probably talking for about five minutes just explaining any updates or what we were going to learn that day, and then we would do a warmup. And, I would go over the routine they learned the class before, before I teach them new steps,” Shapiro said. 

One of Shapiro’s students is a paraplegic and uses a wheelchair. When teaching him certain ballroom techniques, she focused on him using his hands and upper body only. 

“When I would tell a student to cross the right foot in front of the left foot, for him, it was cross your right arm in front of your left arm,” she explained. “Everyone was at such a different place, but in the end they all learned the cha-cha-cha, the samba, the jive, and the pasodoble.” 

After two months of preparation, Shapiro’s class performed its final showcase on a live broadcast for the City of Coral Gables in honor of Disability Awareness Month. 

“This class turned into something that I looked forward to every day, because it didn’t feel like work,” Shapiro remarked. “Whether it be another Zoom class or even being able to at some point teach again in person, I have found something that I love and am passionate about. Not everyone finds that thing that they love so much.”