A Chance to Dance: Moving Miracles Turns 20

One-of-a-kind dance studio for people with special needs celebrates milestone with several events

By Catherine Miller

Student Mariah Helmer and her instructor Laura Pietak during a solo dance practice at Moving Miracles.
Student Mariah Helmer and her instructor Laura Pietak during a solo dance practice at Moving Miracles.

A love of dance, once instilled, cannot be stifled. Nobody knows this better than Sheila Dollas — founder and director of Moving Miracles, a local dance studio whose student body is wholly made up of special needs children and adults.

This one-of-a-kind Western New York dance studio is home to more than 150 dancers, all of them unique in their own way. Some have physical limitations, some intellectual and others developmental, yet all of them are similar in their love of movement. And just as each one has different attributes and challenges in their daily lives, they each have their own strengths and weaknesses in their dance class — and that is what makes the classes so special

“We try to pair the dancers with others that will help them,” says Dollas, who as she moves into her 20th year as director of Moving Miracles, has cultivated an eye for people that will work well together. “Where one needs help, we have another who is able to help.” This in turn not only makes a stronger dance routine, but bolsters self-esteem and camaraderie comradery within the classes.

While the dancers may each be challenged with some sort of limitation, there is no limit to the types of classes they are able to attend at Moving Miracles. Classes such as tap, jazz, contemporary, creative movement and, of course, ballet are available at the studio which is located at the Southgate Plaza in West Seneca.

“The students are taught proper technique from the onset,” says Dollas, “The basic foundations of ballet are taught and strengthened throughout their time here. They are required to study, learn and practice proper technique.”

If Sheila Dollas sounds as if she’s passionate about dance etiquette, it’s because she grew up in the world of dance.

The self-proclaimed “dance junkie” intended to continue in that world until, in her college years, an injury cut her dancing lifespan short. Left with physical disabilities of her own she worked diligently to overcome her limitations, while trying to determine how to maintain a life revolving around dance, even if she could not revolve around the dance floor as she had in the past. While owning a dance studio sounded ideal, she also wanted to help others that were struggling with their own limitations. Combining the two concepts, Dollas opened the doors to Moving Miracles in 1998 with four students.

That number has now grown to 150 students with ages ranging from 3 to 70. The growth of the facility was enhanced in 2008 when it began a partnership with [Suburban Adult Services, Inc., which provided support and resources that helped Moving Miracles flourish. In 2014 Moving Miracles became an official division of SASi and shortly thereafter the dance studio added an adaptive fitness program to their curriculum that allowed for their students to utilize basic exercise equipment to work on range of motion and strength training.

“I feel changed,” says Sarah Oliveri, a student at Moving Miracles, when she first began the fitness program “My clothes fit better and I feel great after I work out.”

Sheila Dollas, founder and director of Moving Miracles, working with of the students at her studio. She started Moving Miracles with four students. More than 150 students of all ages now are enrolled.
Sheila Dollas, founder and director of Moving Miracles, working with of the students at her studio. She started Moving Miracles with four students. More than 150 students of all ages now are enrolled.

Heading up the fitness program is Emelie Obrochta, full time fitness instructor, personal trainer and health advocate. With a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and years of experience in the field, Obrochta brings a level of excellence to the fitness program that rivals any local gym. This level of professionalism is found throughout Moving Miracles in their instructors. The teachers and volunteers come from varying backgrounds in special education, occupational therapy, speech, and dance — to name a few.

Walking into the Moving Miracles studio, you would not initially notice it was geared toward dancers with special needs save the occasional wheelchair that works into many of the routines. The large class viewing windows are filled with students working and reworking routines with the flow of the ballet class and the rhythm of the tap class. The memo boards are full of reminders of upcoming fundraisers and events. The back of the studio is complete with “dance moms” waiting out their class time sharing stories of the week. This unique studio has the same feel and function of any other studio. And to the dancers — it is a way to feel integrated in a world that doesn’t always allow for inclusion.

A painter leaves behind a painting. A musician has his lyrics. A writer, his prose. Dance is the one artistic outlet that does not produce any lasting earthly result — yet dance has transcended time and has been incorporated into every culture. And now, thanks to Sheila Dollas and her entourage, it transcends physical, developmental and intellectual limitations as well, and does so with an air of elegance.


Events to Mark Studio’s Milestone

Moving Miracles will continue its 20th anniversary celebration at its upcoming annual fundraiser at Michael’s Catering and Banquets, Sat., Nov. 4, with the “king” Terry Buchwald headlining the entertainment. Other upcoming events include an annual SASi celebration on Oct. 28 at Kleinhan’s Music Hall, and its end of the year performance on May 6, 2018.

Contact the school at 716-656-1321 or visit its website, www.movingmiracles.org for additional information.

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