PARAMUS, N.J. — Like many of her students, Paramus dance teacher Claudine Ranieri had never been to prom.
It was 2013 and the Glen Rock mom was approached by one of the students, who had special needs, and needed to learn to dance.
Without hesitation, Ranieri established a dance class, just for students with special needs, and the culminating moment was when she joined them on the dance floor at prom.
Ranieri kept the program going but this month, she is expanding it into the district's multidisciplinary program for local students with special needs,
Launched by district speech and language specialist Barbara Vene-Anderson, the program allows children to experience a wide range of activities, including yoga, gymnastics, basketball, dance, art, music and pet therapies.
And Ranieri is hoping her discipline will establish more breakthroughs — on and off the dance floor.
"The main thing you really start to see is a universal language that everyone can comprehend," said Ranieri, who started the PHS Dance Deprtment in 2008.
"I see students’ ability to recall information, follow direction, retain information — and the coordination skills develop."
The multi-sensory environment stimulates different areas of the brain, allowing the student to access pieces of information or events they otherwise might not have been able to, Ranieri explained.
It helps them connect to their emotions, especially working in a circle, which encourages eye contact.
One student once told Ranieri: "dance is a happy moment when I can touch the music."
"Every kid I've encountered makes a connection to it," Ranieri said. "It has a universal camaraderie."