'Everyone can dance and everyone deserves the chance to try'
Michelle Anderson of Naperville, Rachel Giagnorio of Rolling Meadows, Kelly Neville of Naperville, Allison Ravin-Hansen of Bartlett and Julia Smarto of Bartlett
Dancing to "Wannabe," the five young women will perform as the Spice Girls. Ranging in age from 17 to 21, they have been dancing together at Center Stage Dance Studio in Bloomingdale for several years.
Some of their mothers met through the National Association for Down Syndrome when their children were infants, and additional friendships were formed through the West Suburban Parent Support Group for Down Syndrome, school and other activities.
The girls were part of a large performing troupe at Center Stage when instructor Candie Natale Schwaner decided last year to start a young adult group.
"The Spice Girls routine is one they did in their class," said Gail Anderson, mother of Michelle Anderson. "All five of them enjoy performing and they are very proud of their ability to perform the routine. They all have followed some of the TV programs, so they understand the competition part of this event. It is a great opportunity for them to learn about all of the things that go into a competition: practicing a routine, learning how to audition."
It was one of the parents who suggested the young women audition for Special Talents America, and Schwaner helped them perfect their performance.
Schwaner also credited Center Stage Dance Studio for being receptive to the idea of offering a class for dancers with disabilities.
"Center Stage welcomed them with open arms. I have a 9-year-old brother with Down syndrome," she said, "and he was my inspiration."
She says she's very proud the girls are finalists in the competition.
"I feel they have taught not only me, but all the dancers at the studio, more than I could teach them -- that everyone can dance and everyone deserves the chance to try any kind of extracurricular activity and be part of a group," Schwaner said.
"They bring awareness about the abilities of children with disabilities everywhere they perform."