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By Daniel J. Vance

Jackie lives by herself in Mankato, Minn., in an apartment near Minnesota State University. She has been legally blind since birth and also has a developmental disability. One of her favorite activities is attending on Friday nights the local Different Drummer Dance Club, which is for people with disabilities.

The club was started by an area mother, Sanda Noy, who wanted a safe place for her 22-year-old son with high-functioning autism to dance, away from the local bars, where his dancing style wasn't well received.

“The dancing is pretty fun,” said Jackie in a telephone interview. “We dance around in a gym to different music. Sometimes the music is country, sometimes '60s or '80s music, or just rock 'n roll. My favorite is country music. I'm country all the way. I like Clay Walker, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and Brooks and Dunn.”

Up to 30 people show for each dance at a local community center. A dance club like this would be fairly easy to start anywhere and an excellent way for some people with disabilities to have fun and build relationships in a safe environment. Almost half the people attending in Mankato have an attendant with them.

“I've met lots of friends there,” said 25-year-old Jackie, who has someone helping her nightly to make menus and cook, and to drive her to community education classes, dances and other leisure recreation. A mobility van takes her to work as a cleaning assistant for a physical therapy practice. Though seeing most most things “up close,”she still likes using a white cane. And Jackie has taken community education classes in arts and crafts, cooking and blanket making.

She said she lives by herself in order to be more independent of her mother and father, who live in a smaller city 25 miles away. She said, “It's more fun living by myself because I get to do what I want.”

The founder of this dance club, Sanda Noy, based it on one in Coon Rapids, Minn., that she had read about. Her son with a disability, Brad, “bounces off the walls and anything in between, including people” when dancing, Noy said. But at the club he can dance the way he wants, and like everyone else, brings his own music to play. Brad said he enjoys the easy listening music of Jack Johnson.

For more, see danieljvance.com [This column made possible by a grant from Blue Valley Sod, www.bluevalleysod.com]