Imagine a hospital taking patients skiing, horseback riding, even surfing. The Adaptive Sports Academy at Lerner Children’s Pavilion at HSS has sponsored excursions for dozens of young patients. This fall, a brand new trip had them kicking up their heels – literally – when they were treated to a private dance lesson by the legendary Radio City Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.
The Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes is an annual holiday tradition in New York City. Some of the children had already seen a performance by the famous dancers, and for them, the trip was a dream come true.
“It was amazing; the kids had a great time,” said Jessica Podell, who is on the executive leadership board of the Adaptive Sports Academy. Jessica had been thinking about offering a different kind of trip for patients when she came up with the idea. “I’ve seen the Christmas Spectacular about two dozen times, and I grew up wanting to be a Rockette,” says Jessica, who is associate director of Sports Marketing at HSS. As a partner of The Madison Square Garden Company’s Garden of Dreams Foundation, which helps children facing obstacles, she was able to organize the trip.
Ranging in age from 4 to 19, many patients on the trip had cerebral palsy or another condition affecting movement. But that didn’t stop the fun when the Rockettes demonstrated their signature precision choreography from the famous “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” dance. The kids were also thrilled to learn how to perform the Rockettes’ famous high kicks. Some of the participants, including a little girl in a tutu, needed assistance, and HSS physical therapist Magda Oledzka was among those helping out.
“Many of the children work on balance and coordination with physical therapists at HSS, and it was an excellent opportunity for them to use those skills in an unfamiliar, but really fun setting,” said Magda, who is clinical supervisor of the Pediatric Rehabilitation Department. “It was challenging to follow directions and remember the dance steps, and they really made us proud. My hope was that the children would fall in love with dancing and continue the activity on their own.”
Dr. Erin Treemarcki, who is completing a fellowship in Pediatric Rheumatology at HSS, was impressed by the two Rockettes who gave the hour-long dance lesson. “Some of the children had conditions that limited their mobility, and the Rockettes who led the lesson were really understanding. They broke up the steps in such a way that everyone could feel they were participating fully in the class. It was a wonderful opportunity for the children and they really enjoyed it.”
After the lesson, the group enjoyed a lively question and answer session with some of the Rockettes. The kids, their siblings and parents were treated to a backstage tour of Radio City, took a peek inside the costume shop and enjoyed a special group lunch. As a souvenir, the participants had the opportunity to take photos with one of the Rockettes.
“The goal of this trip and the other outings sponsored by the Adaptive Sports Academy is to boost patients’ self-esteem and encourage independence by showing them what they can accomplish,” said Peyton Katz, Pediatric Patient and Family Care Coordinator at HSS. “During lunch after the dance lesson, parents were exchanging information and discussing a ballet class for kids with differing abilities that some of their daughters attend. Our patients come away from Adaptive Sports Academy events with new friends, skills and opportunities for future involvement, which is everything we dreamed of when we created this program.”