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31 July 2020

Dancers with disabilities take centre stage

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Alana Giaccio

Director, All Abilities Cheer and Dance
Project Officer, University of South Australia
Bachelor of Communication and Media
Graduate Certificate in Disability Studies

After a 2012 back injury and stress fracture, talented lifelong dancer, Alana Giaccio’s hopes of pursuing a career in dance were dashed. Little did she know eight years later she would be launching her very own studio, All Abilities Cheer and Dance (AACD).

AACD is the only studio in South Australia that offers recreation, competition and online cheer and dance classes, under the one roof, solely for people of all ages with all types of disabilities.

Each class has a parent, guardian and carer viewing area, as the studio is dedicated to bringing together people with disabilities to express themselves through the fun and creative world of cheerleading and dance in a supportive and safe environment.

Having been dancing for 14 years and involved in competitions for 11 years, with experience in jazz, lyrical, contemporary, hip hop, cheerleading and pom, Alana's dance career involved everything from performing at Disneyland Resort in California, Disney California Adventure Park and at Universal Studios Hollywood, as well as competing interstate, performing at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre and in the National Pharmacies Christmas Pageant seven times.

But it was Alana’s 25 years of personal experience with disability, growing up with two brothers with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Intellectual Disability, that made her deeply aware of the barriers many face.

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With this intimate knowledge – armed with her experience as a dancer – she then set off on a path to combine her love of dance and passion for the equal rights of people with disabilities, spreading kindness and contributing to inclusion support in the dance world into All Abilities Cheer and Dance.

It was obvious to Alana there was a clear need in the community for this type of sport and the rapid growth of AACD has proved this. Despite classes only launching this month, the studio already has 50 excited students signed up.

“Growing up, I always knew there was a gap in the market, I just didn’t think I’d be the one filling it!” Alana says. “Personally, I am proud to offer a unique sport to people who might not have had the chance before.”

“I’m glad that more people can be included and I’m so happy to see their parents joyous that their child can participate in something, make friends, develop new skills and have fun. Professionally, I’d like to expand and reach as many people as I can.”

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Earlier this year, Alana became a volunteer cheer and dance coach at Special Olympics SA seeing firsthand the joy that comes from belonging to a local sporting community and how dance is a great way to build self-confidence, motor and communication skills for this cohort.

It was here she became affiliated with Special Olympics Australia under AACD and saw the real difference dance can make to a person with disabilities’ balance and proprioception, spatial awareness, visual stabilisation, let alone musicality, teamwork and all-important communication skills.

“There are 14 athletes ranging from 10-years-old to 39-years-old in the team,” Alana says. “It is great to see all the girls interacting and helping one another, despite the age differences.”

“The parents and carers view the class every week which has provided a supportive environment for everyone. They all cheer the athletes on, take photos and videos, and the athletes love practising in front of an audience.”

“It’s been wonderful seeing the athletes progress in their dancing and skill level. As we are a competition team, I teach the athletes skills to be performed in the routine to ‘wow’ the judges. Seeing the athletes learn the skill and then master it after a few weeks is really rewarding.”

Special Olympics Australia’s General Manager Sports Development, Terry Visscher is supportive as well, even saying, “Access and inclusion are the key factors that can break down barriers, and it is organisations like All Abilities Cheer and Dance that assist Special Olympics Australia (SOA) in their mission to provide sport to people with intellectual disabilities.”

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Even though Alana has never been busier – with work at UniSA three days a week, teaching dance at schools every fortnight, and an additional seven classes throughout the week in the evenings – she has many exciting performances planned and high ambitions for AACD.

In September the studio has their very first competition and will also be performing in CanDance for a Cure at the Entertainment Centre in November, but Alana also has her sights set on the global stage.

“Being affiliated with Special Olympics Australia could put Adelaide residents on the national or international stage!” She says. “Our goal is to one day compete at the International Cheer Union World Championship (ICU Worlds) in the Special Olympics section in Orlando, Florida.”

AACD classes offer something for everyone who has a passion for dance. With each class individually tailored to suit the abilities of its students, and a great way to build self-confidence and communication skills, it's a place to make connections and friends for a group often not provided the opportunity.

Find out more about All Abilities Cheer and Dance here.

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