Wisconsin Life’s Zac Schultz visits with Kehl School of Dance student Mari Koopmans.
There is a picture of Mari Koopmans as a little girl, smiling and wearing a tutu. “When I first did ballet, I was probably four and it was regular ballet,” says Mari. “I did it with my best friend. It was carefree. We’re all like twirling around but we’re having the time of our life.”
That was Mari’s last time as a standing dancer. “When I was four, my special needs kicked in and I mean, you don’t really know how you’re going to dance.”
J Matzner remembers the start of her dancing career. “My mother put me into dance because she didn’t think I was very coordinated. I do remember that I was about four or five and I remember being in my very first dance recital. I never really stopped until I had a life-threatening illness. It’s the first time movement had ever been taken away from me. It gave me insight, I feel, into what others experience when they can’t move.”
Now an adult, Matzner is Mari’s instructor at the Kehl School of Dance in Verona. “As I was recovering, I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll just join some accessible dance classes now and start getting some of that core strength back’ and I was very surprised to find that, at least in the Madison area, there really weren’t any accessible dance classes. That was one of the reasons why later on I decided to start one.”
Mari spent nearly five years without ballet. “It took a while for us to find wheelchair ballet. I mean it took like years and years. When we found it, we were like overjoyed and we wanted to do it like immediately.”
“An accessible dance class is very much like any class,” says Matzner. “The teacher comes. They show the step. They help the dancer feel what it’s like on their own body. Every person is limited by their own body structure. Dance really lends itself to meeting everyone where they are at their own ability.”
Mari Koopmans has known Matzner for three years. “She’s much more than a teacher to me. She’s a friend that I get to hug every week and a person who I can laugh with and dance with. She doesn’t think it’s sad that we have special needs. She makes it an opportunity to make us stronger.”
As Mari has progressed, Matzner has taught her new dances. “First we had our classical ballet dance. We had a Broadway-style dance. This year we’re learning Flamenco.”
Tania Tandias is a local Flamenco instructor. She offered to choreograph a dance for Mari. “What you want to think of with Spanish dance is that you want to really stretch out your arms,” says Tandias.
To read more and see an extra video, please click here.