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Inclusive dance program lets all dancers shine

A couple times a week students gather for a performing arts dance class at California State University Channel Islands.

In this class, one student is changing the way all of us should think about movement and dance.

“I love it. It’s been my passion for awhile now,” said CSUCI dance major, Jessica Clay.

“She is really just an amazing person and student and beautiful dancer,” said CSUCI dance professor Heather Castillo.

Jessica Clay may not be your typical dancer. She has cerebral palsy and has been confined to a wheelchair for most of her life.

“I can’t walk and some of my body is very tight and other parts are very loose,” said Clay.

But even with her challenges, Clay’s love for dance has only escalated since she was a little girl, a joy her mother once thought her daughter would never know.

“Seeing on the newspaper all these little girls in tutus and just thinking, oh my gosh, she might not be able to dance and thinking in my head what dance should be at that time and not understanding the things you can do. So it has taught me a lot about, ok this is new ground, lets go ahead and do this and just go for it,” said Terri Clay, Jessica’s Mother

That go for it attitude prompted Clay to not only enjoy her passion for dance but to pursue her dream by majoring in dance at Cal State Channel Islands.

“She has already taught me more about dance then I think I could ever teach her,” said Clay’s dance teacher Heather Castillo.

CSCUI has not only welcomed Clay. Faculty and students have embraced her for the contributions she brings to the class.

“Our first day we were in here, she said we were going to get Jessica out of the chair and I knew that is why I was scared, because it is just different when you are handling someone who can’t move like us to make sure you are not hurting her. So just being cautious but in the end it is exciting to try new things,” said fellow CSUCI dance student Darol Garcia.

To many, Clay may not look the part, but talk to anyone who has danced with her or watched her dance and they’ll quickly share how talented and inspirational she is.

“Her creativity and her approach. She is as much a dancer as I have ever seen before. I feel really privileged to have her as a student,” said Castillo.

“I’m not proud of her because she is a girl in a wheelchair that wants to be a dancer. I am proud of her because she just rolls in and says this is what we are going to do now,” said CSUCI faculty member Amanda Timpson.

Clay’s determination is obvious, her success inspiring and her goal is to not only live out her dream of being a dancer but to also change the way the world looks at men and women with disabilities

“I want to do it for more equality for people with disabilities and to create a social awareness to change peoples perception of people with disabilities because I feel like no matter who you are you can do anything you set your mind too,” said Clay.

You can watch Clay perform in CSUCI’s Arts Under The Stars creative showcase tomorrow at 7 pm at El Dorado Hall Park. Admission is free, parking is $6.

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