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Teacher turns to dance to engage with special needs students

Jackie Zamora created 'ZamDance' as a way to broaden abilities for those with developmental challenges

BETHESDA, Md. — There's a special energy in one of the rooms at St. James Episcopal Church in Potomac, Maryland. This space is one of several used by Jacqueline "Jackie" Zamora where she leads a group in "ZamDance", a dance class she created to assist children and adults with developmental differences.   

"It's a program called 'Celebrate Ability'. I come every Friday to teach the class," said Zamora.   

There are scant few group options for those with special needs to gather for physical activity. The pandemic has only increased the difficulty. 

Zamora created ZamDance by fusing her own talents being involved with both dance and exercise and working in schools with special needs children. 

Her interaction with the group and her effect on them brings smiles to the room as they move and shake to Latin hits and dance music.

"They feel safe with me. They feel safe with Zamdance," said Zamora. "I just have to play the music and dance and it's a magical thing. It just happens."

19-year-old student Sam Alberts helps to lead the choreography for the hit song “Kulikitaka Ti.” 

"I love going at high impact," said Alberts. "It makes me feel happy." 

"This is the best. This is really the best. It's music, it's movement and it's this love and energy. She (Jackie) just makes it," says mom Suzie Fitzgerald whose son Danny is a co-instructor in the program. "They go to one of her classes and it's a party there.    

Zamora says in many cases, Zamdance provides the only opportunity for some of the kids, teens and adults in the program to get any kind of physical activity and social interaction. 

"Danny and kids with special needs don't have a social life like we do where they go out and have their friends. So this becomes their social life," said Fitzgerald.

Zamora says she can only be in one place at a time and she is working to attract sponsors to raise money for the non-profit ZamDance organization. She is looking to hire additional instructors with the hopes of adding more classes. 

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