Salsa, Tango And Waltz Promote Special Needs Wellness At Pittsburgh-Area Dance Center

Dec 23, 2016

Yes, You Can Dance! students and volunteer mentors line up for instruction on a recent Sunday afternoon.
Credit Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Deb Schmersal glides around the floor, holding hands with her partner, Jeffrey, as they dance. Their moves aren’t perfect, but that’s not the point at Yes, You Can Dance!

The organization, founded in 2011, uses dance to promote wellness for people with special needs, chronic degenerative diseases and disabilities.

Over the past six years, it has grown and blossomed with the help of some dedicated volunteers, including Schmersal.

“The minute she walks in the door every class, I feel the energy levels rise,” instructor Emily Fitchwell said. “Without people like her, this program would not be as successful as it is.”

Participants work out of two borrowed studios in the South Hills and North Hills. Students enroll in six-week sessions. Each week, they meet with an instructor and volunteers like Schmersal.

“The volunteers are actually referred to as mentors,” Schmersal said. “The teachers are teaching the lesson, and the mentors are facilitating with the students. It’s just amazing fun. It’s absolute joy.”

Deb Schmersal and her Yes, You Can Dance! partner Jeffery pause during a dance lesson.
Credit Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

The North Hills resident said she loves to see the students grow and gain confidence over time as they learn all the typical ballroom dances, including the waltz, tango and salsa.

The program has branched out from helping people with special needs to people with multiple sclerosis and seniors.

“We went to a nursing home… and we went to the Alzheimer’s floor, and we danced with I think it was 18 Alzheimer’s patients,” Schmersal said. “Most, if not all, were in wheelchairs, but that doesn’t stop the dance party. Everyone dances.”