Reagan Imhoff never took her eyes off the stage when, at age 2 1/2, her parents took her to see The Nutcracker. She watched every leap and bound of the dancers.
She dreamed of being a ballerina.
But as a young girly-girl who had never walked or crawled, there weren't many options available for her to dance.
Reagan was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy-Type 2 in May 2006, just a few weeks past her first birthday. As an infant, she missed her major motor milestones.
Now almost 7, Reagan has had seven surgeries, ranging from a feeding tube to doctors putting rods in her back. She must use a wheelchair for support and to get around.
“She has very, very weak muscles,” said Jenny Imhoff, Reagan’s mother. “She needs complete support and doesn’t have a lot of big movement.”
They thought her disease put dancing out of reach. But now she's a ballerina, who spends her Saturdays in a leotard, dancing at AMP’d Limited.
“For us, there aren’t a ton of opportunities out there for things like this to do,” Imhoff said. “She is so happy and on cloud nine for every class. She can’t wait to go.”
Reagan is realizing her dream because another young woman took a chance on fulfilling her own dream.
One dreamer to another
Katie Campbell discovered her passion for teaching dance while attending Carroll University for her undergraduate degree. She was planning her upcoming wedding and completing graduate school, but Campbell took a risk and opened her own dance studio in September.
“I always knew I wanted to do it but was just looking for the right time,” Campbell said. “I guess I found out there is just never any good time.”
The studio – Academy of Movement and Performance Dance, located on Bluemound Road in Waukesha — focuses on competitive dance. A unique aspect of the studio is the program Campbell offers for people with special needs.
Campbell's future sister-in-law helped inspire the program. She has Down syndrome and loves yoga.
“I was given the ability to dance with all of my appendages and some people aren’t, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to,” Campbell said. “… I think it is very important, and it is my way of giving back to the community.”
A Chance To Be a Ballerina
Imhoff emailed Campbell after learning about AMP’d and its program for special needs students. Campbell responded hours later, and Reagan started classes in January.
At the time Reagan was sick and unable to attend Ronald Reagan Elementary School. Dancing every week has made Reagan's world a little bit brighter. She can't stop talking about her Saturday morning dance class.
Reagan hopes to go back to school in April, after an eighth surgery.
Right now, she's looking forward to dancing in an upcoming recital to a song from Disney's The Little Mermaid. For her parents, it's just "awesome" to see her having fun, Imhoff said.
“She leaves every week and that is all she talks about at home,” Campbell said. “Her mom thanks me every week. It is one of those moments, where literally it brings a tear to my eye because I know that I am changing her life.”
On that day, Reagan will dance on stage, like everyone else. She will do it in her own way, but there is no doubt that what she does is dance.
"She is a dancer," her mother said. "She dances around the house all the time. … She loves doing leaps. She will drive really fast forward and put her head back and put her arm out. You can see in her eyes she is imagining herself doing what other dancers do."