The O’Fallon Progress
Even for those who did not know what Without Limits Dance Company was all about, the smiles on the faces of the students, teachers and parents speak volumes on what this group means to people.
Without Limits is a dance company for individuals with special needs, striving to provide a supportive and inclusive environment. When Kati Melton officially launched her dream a year ago, her mission was thus: “To allow individuals who are differently abled the opportunity to dance, perform and make friendships that last a lifetime.”
“This is something I always wanted to do. I don’t want them to miss opportunities,” Melton said. “It’s not just about performing. I want them to experience as much as possible.”
A special education teacher, Melton graduated from McKendree University in 2015 and earned a master’s degree in 2018.
About 30 students are currently involved and enrollment continues to grow. As it is the only company of its kind in the metro-east area, they are expanding to a new location. For slightly more than a year, classes took place Sundays at Taylor’s School of Dance in O’Fallon. The company will resume classes July 2 at its new Lebanon site, 220 E. St. Louis St., which will be open Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday for traditional dance classes, competition team and Special Olympics.
Tap, ballet, jazz, hip hop and pom classes are offered. Participating students have such special needs as Down syndrome, autism, ADHD and other sensory processing disorders.
“They are excited to be here,” Melton said.
Melton has recruited volunteers to become one-on-one buddies with the students, so they can learn from each other, and the students don’t feel uncomfortable.
“The buddies are here every week. They float around. Anyone who wants to help support the kids can do it, they don’t need to be a dancer,” she said.
A longtime dancer and coach, Melton’s passion for seeing individuals with disabilities accomplish their wildest dreams is evident. She wanted to offer them an opportunity to dance in an atmosphere where they are comfortable. She wanted to provide them assistance, if they needed it, with qualified staff.
And she enlisted people as passionate as she is. Known as a can-do go-getter with limitless ideas and energy, Melton is the reason so many people are willing to help.
“She works her butt off in every aspect of life,” said Victoria Corporon, a speech-language pathologist, who lives in Mascoutah.
Melton is a former dance team instructor at Belleville East High School. Her fiancé, Timothy Hassall, is a music teacher and band director at East and proposed to her in May 2018 at the school’s choir spring concert. They marry this month, and Melton has planned a reception to include her students in July. She is taking some time off and will return to dance classes next month.
They put together a recital, and saw what the students are capable of, and now plan on more activities. The company will enter a contest in Chicago in October.
For the first time recently, a team from the company entered a competition, The Power of Dance in Kirkwood, Missouri, in May and earned a perfect score, placing first. They performed a routine to the song “This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman.”
This past weekend, students Jennifer Harper, Rebecca Bowlin, and Tobi Borlin competed at the state Special Olympic Games and all three brought home medals in rhythmic gymnastics.
“They worked so hard and did so well,” said instructor Katie Reining.
This summer, they will march in parades — the Lebanon Fireman’s Picnic July 12-13 and the Mascoutah Homecoming Aug. 3.
They are planning a JoJo Summer Camp July 13, which will include crafts, snacks, games, T-shirts and dancing/teaming a combination to pop singer JoJo’s music. The camp will be split into three age groups: 2-6 years, 7-12 years and 13 and up. For more information, visit the website:or their Facebook page.
All in all, instructors notice changes in students in both physical and social ways.
“Overall, their body strength and their balance improves,” Corporon said.
Endurance, posture and coordination improves too, as does fine motor skills, Melton noted.
Jordan Harper of Alton, a teacher’s assistant in the Alton School District, helps with the company. She said her long drive is “totally worth it” to see how important this is to people.
She said students often struggle with social skills, but the company is so encouraging to each other that their interaction has improved. Teamwork building is key.
Kati Melton’s mother, Tina, said they hear from parents these lessons have given their children “a lot more self-esteem and confidence.”
Lisa Elbe of Belleville, whose daughter Kennedy has become a cheerleader manager at Belleville East High School because of this program, is grateful for this experience.
“Her confidence has gone through the roof,” she said. “This is the best thing to ever happen to Kennedy, a dream come true for us.”
“Kati makes each of these kids feel special. She encourages them and understands all of their disabilities,” Elbe said.
“The parents are so proud of their kids and they have bonded together. It’s like a support group,” said Tina Melton.
Additionally, they gathered for cookie decorating in December to share ideas.
“They feed off each other,” Corporon said. “They interact with each other and encourage each other. It’s really been good for the parents and the kids.”
Jon Borlin of Troy brings his daughter, Tobi, every week.
“It’s great. These kids are able to be here and see that they matter. There’s not an opportunity around here like this,” he said.
Rachel Hoffmann of Mascoutah brings her daughters Leah, 5, and Claire Griffith, 8, who has autism, both to class. Leah does not have special needs.
“She just loves to dance, so I put them together. We’re here every week. We’ll stay forever,” Hoffmann said.
But it’s not just impacted the students and their families, but also the teachers.
“This has had a huge impact on my life. I love and care for all of these kids so much, and I have never felt joy like I have when working with them. I actually just applied to get a master’s degree in special education because of this experience. It has been the most amazing experience, and I’m so grateful for it,” Reining said.
“All of us could be a kinder person, and this is a great way to do it. The world needs more kindness,” Corporon said.
For more information, call 618-334-6709 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.