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Living their dreams: Special Olympics to perform in EKU halftime show

Richmond Register - 12/31/2019

Dec. 31--For the second year in a row, the Eastern Kentucky University Dance Team will partner with the Beautiful Lives Project and Madison County Special Olympics to give those with disabilities a chance to be a part of the halftime dance routine this weekend at the EKU basketball game on Saturday.

The Beautiful Lives Project is a nonprofit created to help people with disabilities experience programs in sports, art, cheer, dance and other events across the country.

Bryce Weiler, who helps run the nonprofit, said it began in May of 2017 working to give those with disabilities the ability to live a dream of taking part in programs they may not have before, from playing in a basketball game to doing an event with a dance team.

"We have chapters across the country where people set up specialized programs to help individuals in their area to be able to live their dreams and do what they have always wanted to do," he said.

According to Weiler, EKU and Madison County became involved after he emailed dance teams nationwide with the idea to include those with disabilities in a routine, and EKU Dance Team Coach Bettina Rogers was interested.

"She has been really great," Weiler said.

He told The Register the EKU Dance Team as well as the team from East Carolina are the first to participate in the event.

"We loved the thought of sharing our love for dance with others and helping out in our community, so I thought this would be a great experience for everyone involved," Rogers said. "Therefore, I responded back to Bryce, and the connection to make this event happen was so strong after I heard his story, learned about his organization and watched other testimonies on his website about these events happening across the nation with other sport teams."

Being able to participate in an event like this is important for several reasons, Weiler said.

First, he said, the individuals who are participating can learn a dance and perform at the basketball game doing something they like to. Second, it gives participants the opportunity to make new friendships, which he called the most important aspect of the experience.

"The members of the dance team are transformed by having the opportunity to show people of all disabilities about dance, and life-long friendships are made between both groups," he said. "I know how important this can be. When I was at the University of Evansville sitting on the Aces Men's Basketball bench from 2010 to 2014, members of the Evansville dance team would shoot free throws with me before Aces' games, and they became some of the most important people in my life. Coach Rogers has allowed this to take place with giving people with disabilities from the Special Olympics of Richmond the opportunity to take part with her dance team."

For Rogers, the event reminds her why she does what she does and how much dance truly means to her and the athletes on her team.

"To see the joy that this event gives those who may not have the opportunity to otherwise participate on a collegiate dance team is beyond rewarding," she said. "I love seeing my team work together during this event. They work to choreograph the routine, cut the music and are the ones who teach the routine during practice. This opportunity reminds us how blessed we are to get to share our world of dance with those that may never get the chance otherwise, and feel part of a team who cheer on the Colonels during game day. Eastern Kentucky University and athletics are huge supporters of dance, and to allow others to see and experience this means a lot to our program. Game days are our favorite days, and I have no doubt the participants will experience the same."

Rogers hopes the participants gain confidence, a love for dance and forever friendships after being honorary members of the EKU Dance Team.

"I want them to feel a sense of accomplishment and know their hard work at practice will pay off," she said. "I hope the audience sees the work that goes in to the preparation of the performances and enjoys the show as much as we love performing it together. In the end, it's about knowing you put in the hard work at practice and feeling proud of your performance in the end."

The performance will take place at the EKU men's basketball game against Jacksonville State during halftime on Jan. 4. The game is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.

Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter @TaylorSixRR.


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