Dance icon taps for 65 years and beyond

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WEST ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Nearly fifty years ago, when a student called to say he had lost his sight and could no longer take dance lessons, his dance teacher wouldn’t let him give up.

Nancy Raddatz told him she could teach everyone to dance.

“Well you know, we are uniquely abled,” he said, agreeing to continue.

That’s how the nonprofit Uniquely Abled Dance Center, which serves students with disabilities, got its name.

The venture is part of the Raddatz Dance Studios, which Raddatz established in 1948 when she started giving free lessons to her friends at her parents’ West St. Paul studio.

Being at her parents’ studio helped her overcome her extreme shyness.

“My mother started me when I was two,” she told Minnesota Public Radio (http://bit.ly/1hdVftm ). “She took me (there for) three months before I’d even go into the class.”

But her dance life came to a screeching halt when she was 17.

In 1953, she was struck by the tail end of a polio epidemic that ravaged thousands of lives with a crippling virus that atrophied muscles.

Raddatz, 77, remembers the first symptom: coming home from school with a headache. She said her recovery was slow and painful.

“I worked at it. Dancing helped,” she recalled. “It was very painful to begin with, but you keep working at it and that’s what you have to do.”

Since then, Raddatz has taught thousands of students. She and her daughter Darcy operate for-profit dance studios in West St. Paul and Eagan. “Oh, yes,” Raddatz said. “I have four generations in some families.”

The Uniquely Abled Dance Studio teaches dance and movement free of charge to people with disabilities.

On a recent Saturday morning, she instructed 11 people in wheelchairs. As some have cerebral palsy and other conditions that limit their movement, their parents or attendants propelled them around the dance floor.

“They cannot move, and most of them cannot speak, but you saw them smile,” she said. “It brings that out because they are dancing.”

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