The annual dance recital of Le Maseran’s “Just For Me” class is going to be held at The Dance Factory on Saturday, June 14th at 10 am. Le Maseran is a school of dance founded by Francita Meaux, who experienced a true calling to dance as a child of 10, is now in her ‘60s, and she is “still dancin’.” However, her dances are dedicated to the glory of God, and most recently she has developed a school of dance that is just for special needs kids and adults. She has students with all kinds of challenges, Downs, Asperger’s, Autism, and the aftermath of physical and chemical brain trauma.
There really is only one word to describe the effect that the dance classes have on the students, volunteers, families, and observing friends, and that’s, “WOW!” Here are some of the improvements reported by parents in this past year. A girl with Downs has had multiple heart surgeries, and has always struggled with her weight. Both situations are a very common side effect of Downs, and her doctors were concerned. As a result of the “Just For Me” class, she is not only moving, but has lost weight, and loves what she is doing.
An autistic child is interacting with other children in the class for the first time. A special needs adult named Sheri absolutely loves the class as well as the kids. She proudly told me, “They help me, and I help them.” She joined “Just For Me,” and the smile on her face says it all. She works very hard, and told me about a sign that hangs on the wall of the practice room that says, “If ballet were easy, everyone would do it.” She also attests to the physical results of dancing after recovering from her leg getting broken in an unrelated incident. “My leg is stronger,” said Sheri. About “Miss Fran” she had this to say: “Of course Miss Fran is the best.” And about Sheri, Miss Fran had this to say: “She is a great encourager to the little ones.”
So, how did “Just For Me,” (a true “niche market” dance school,) get started? Miss Fran told me, “You know, I have a special needs brother, and I have always had a heart for special needs people.” Her brother didn’t dance, but she feels that watching his struggles is where the seed to help the special needs community was planted. She already had started one dance school, called Le Maseran, which means “the Master’s Hands,” and had focused on liturgical dance worship, but she knew there was “something else” she was called to do. She felt strongly “the something” involved forming a special needs dance school.
She reached out to the Athens Public Schools, and received a great deal of help from the Special Education Department. “They hammered out the parameters and definitions, and I learned a lot,” she told me. Francita began through trial and error to find out what her students were capable of, and “Just For Me” began to take shape. Each child or adult student has a written file and assessment, which is helpful for both parents as well as the helpers.
Miss Fran is very quick to do two very important things: 1. Give God all the glory for the success of both Le Maseran and Just For Me, and 2. Let people know that she could not do any of what she does without the help and support of Susan Fisher Nesbitt, owner of the Dance Factory, and “Fran’s Five,” the five young women who are trained dancers that volunteer their time to help with the “Just For Me-ers.” The five are Darby Calvin, Rebekah Thomas, Anna Thomas, Maria Valenzuela and Kayla Griffin. “They get up on Saturday mornings and come and help me,” said Fran, and in addition, they rotate helping on the weekdays after school. Sadly, this year Darby is not going to be able to be at the recital because she’ll be ministering at a special needs orphanage in China. I could tell she was both excited about her trip as well as wishing she could be here for the recital.
As a way of saying thanks to her student helpers, Miss Fran will have each one of them dance a solo in the recital. While admission to the recital is free, Miss Fran will “pass the hat,” and give the proceeds to the helpers.
“Come on out and see what is possible,” says Fran. And, she added, “Come see and then let your child experience the joy of dancing.” That is an invitation I am planning on accepting, and hope you will, too.
The Just For Me dance recital will be held on Saturday, June 14th, at 11 am at the Dance Factory, located at 1432 Freeman Avenue, Athens, AL 35613. For more information, please call 256-230-0479. Admission is free.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner