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Dancers dispel disabilities, step on the floor

Five way-cool dudes, fedoras lowered to their eyebrows, shuffle in sync onto the dance floor as the theme from "Mission: Impossible" blares. After several impressive leaps and splits, they step dance and clap with military precision, then file into a straight line. Marching in place, they form the letters B-A-S-A-C with their arms and finish their dance with a thunderous cheer.

"Diagnosis: Dance Abilities!" the quintet yells in unison.

These guys, all participants in The League for People with Disabilities Career Services program, have often heard much different assessments of their abilities. But as dancers with B'More Abilities Special Arts Center — the B-A-S-A-C — in their finale, they have concentrated on what they can do.

"I feel like I'm Tom Cruise doing all his stunts in a black hat," said Andrew Pace, 21, of Perry Hall. "I am doing something I like to do with my friends. I really like step dancing. It's mission possible for us."

The step dancers and several other performers, all coping with developmental and physical disabilities, will take part in their first recital Sunday at Patapsco High School in Dundalk. They will show off the adaptive dance techniques that they have polished at the arts center, founded by Zoey Robinson-Budreski, a classically trained ballerina who is guiding many individuals who have autism, Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities into the field of dance. She has a decade of instructional experience and has attained certification in wheelchair dance and autism movement.

"Just because you have a disability does not mean you can't dance," said Robinson-Budreski, the mother of two young sons with special needs. "Anyone can dance with the feet. It takes courage to dance with the heart. These people have talents, and we find ways to bring those abilities out."

She said her adaptive dance company is unique in that it accepts those with the desire to dance but not necessarily what many instructors might consider the requisite mobility. She works with her students' challenges and places no limitations on their aspirations.

"Dance is within you," she tells them repeatedly.

Antoinette Cadogan, 22, came to the studio six months ago on crutches.

"At first, Antoinette saw her crutches as a hindrance," Robinson-Budreski said. "We worked with her to help her use the crutches as part of her movement and to think of them as an extension to her body."

Cadogan will perform a solo in the recital. She has rehearsed long hours, dancing with a new $600 pair of rotatable crutches, custom crafted to allow her greater ease and range of movement. The pink crutches match her costume for the recital.

She dances to "Morning Lullabies," a soulful ballad. Her performance opens with graceful arm and head movements while she is seated on a swiveling chair. Robinson-Budreski coached from the background, and her fellow dancers were ready to support her if she had any problems.

When Cadogan feared she might fall at a rehearsal last week, 26-year-old Marlon Carey, one of the steppers, said, "I will be here for you." Pace offered to steady her chair. Their assurances buoyed her.

Cadogan deftly blends the crutches into the performance, raising them into the air and then standing with them. Her demeanor masks the great effort involved as she executes leg lifts with composure and grace. Then, like any prima ballerina, she takes a sweeping bow.

The recital also features a charming and energetic pair of jitterbuggers. Shane Christensen, 20, leads Maria Stephanos, 22, through a fast-paced number. He twirls and dips his ever-smiling partner. They swing and sway hand in hand and sometimes, under- and overhand, in true '40s style.

"This activity is huge for her," Denise Stephanos said of her daughter. "Dance has become the favorite thing in her life. It is why we come here twice a week from Crofton."

Maria Stephanos could take advantage of many sports opportunities through the Special Olympics, but she has always favored the arts, her mother said.

"Dance is all about her and what she can do," Denise Stephanos said.

Christensen, who also will do a high-stepping solo to "Cotton-Eyed Joe," said he likes playing the lead.

"Maria follows me," he said. "It's all cool."

After long rehearsals last week, Robinson-Budreski assured her troupe.

"You guys will all have the floor rocking," she said.

Curtain rises at 2 p.m. at the Patapsco High School & Center for the Arts, 8100 Wise Ave., Dundalk. Tickets, available at the door or online @bmoreabilities.ticketleap.com/missionpossible, are $10 for adults and $7 for children 12 and younger. Proceeds benefit BASAC.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

An earlier version of the photo caption which accompanied this article misidentified Antoinette Cadogan. The Sun regrets the error.

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