What's Working? A Special Dance for Students with Down Syndrome

Students at A-Marika Dance Studio learn to step, shuffle, and twirl. But owner Mary Ramirez Cook says the real goal is to teach the students to stand proudly on their own two feet.

"We might not end up in Cincinnati Ballet. However, if we end up President of P&G that would be a little better. So I think the confidence that you get performing in front of people is huge," Cook said.

But Cook's impact on the community is bigger. Five years ago she started a free dance class for students with Down Syndrome. But just because they have special challenges, Mary doesn't want her students to be treated specially.

"I do know that it's just as important for the typical students I have as my special needs students as a release. A place to come where they can have fun with one another," Cook said.

The class now boasts forty students and there's a waiting list. Teddy Kremer, 29, thinks that's more due to the socializing than the salsa.

"I love all the people here. I love them so much a lot, and I have great people that I dance with, good, not professional dancers, but they do a good job, and it's fun. I love to come here," Kremer said.

Although Kremer's not a professional dancer, he's beaten the odds. He placed first twice and third in the national ballroom dance competition Dancesport.

When asked if he would dance for the rest of his life, Kremer said, "I think so. Yes. It's a good thing to do."

Cook teaches her dancing stars to waltz and tango, but it was her son Matthew who led her.

"Having a son of my own, I know that it's been a gift to me because I never would have gone down this road had I not had Matthew to put me down this road. it's been a huge experience. And I hope it continues to grow," Cook said.

For all she's done for Cincinnati families, and her own, Cook will never lack a dancing partner.

- Stephanie Woods@