Sarah Jacobson: Advocating for Inclusive Dance

By Jenny Price | Photography By Hillary Schave, Shot on location at Madison Youth Arts Center (MYArts)

Parents are overjoyed when they discover Sarah Jacobson’s dance classes for kids with disabilities, because opportunities for them to participate in the arts are rare.

Jacobson’s program, called Confidance, opens the door to dance for her students, who often run into barriers in their schools and communities rather than accommodations. “It’s an even playing field for everybody,” she says. “Everybody can dance, and there’s no wrong way to dance.”

A former professional dancer who worked in Australia, Europe and the United States, Jacobson drew from her experience studying dance in special education while earning her performing arts degree in the U.K. She is also a certified instructor with Rhythm Works Integrative Dance, a program that trains teachers to use hip-hop movements to help students reach developmental goals.

Confidance is housed at Vibe, the Middleton dance studio where Jacobson works as an instructor. Her first student when she launched the effort was her son, who is autistic and now in his teens. She now has about three dozen students across three classes.

Up next for Jacobson is recruiting and training a larger pool of volunteers — who can be as young as 13 — to provide the support needed to enroll more students in the program. She also wants to build capacity by recruiting candidates she can train to teach additional classes.

“I’ve probably turned away about seven kids recently, which I hate,” she says.

Cameron Murray, who is autistic, was 6 years old when he started dancing with Jacobson. Now 18, he’s one of the students she has in mind when she looks to expand her class offerings to include a class for recent high school graduates.

“It has given him a place to do what he loves and Sarah meets him exactly where he is and praises him for that,” says Heather Murray, Cameron’s mom. “From my perspective, Cam has another important person in his orbit that believes in him.”

Jacobson’s classes adapt to her students — not the other way around — thanks to the creativity and flexibility Jacobson brings to working with students who have a variety of disabilities.

“Yesterday, one girl just lit up,” she says. “It’s when I catch them unaware and they’re really enjoying the moment, and I look over and they’re just totally free and moving.”

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