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August 29, 2013

'Master's hands' guide dance steps of students

Fran Meaux wanted to be a dancer from the time she was 4 and a ward of the state in a Catholic children’s home in Louisville, Ky., but there was no money or time for special dance instruction for one little girl.

Now, she’s helping non-traditional dance students realize their dreams at The Dance Factory in Athens.

As a child, Meaux taught herself to dance at the back of the chapel during mass, out of sight of the nuns. From that early experience, she developed a type of liturgical dance she calls Le Maseran — The Master’s Hands — an ancient, psalm-based form of worship, praise and prayer expressed in the language of movement in dance.

In time, Meaux, married and raised a family, with still no time for formal dance instruction. She and her husband, Causten, a minister, moved from Louisville to Huntsville in 2000 and “gravitated toward Limestone County,” she said.

She began teaching at The Dance Factory, owned by Susan Nesbitt Fisher, in 2004. Under Fisher’s tutelage, she was soon teaching pre-school, ballet 1 and 2, and pre-tap.

“I love teaching kids,” said Meaux. “As I learned, I learned to teach kids.”

Last year, the studio introduced a new dance program, “Just for Me,” for students who might otherwise have no chance of taking traditional dance instruction.

“So far, we have four students ages 9 down to 4,” said Meaux. “These are children with special needs, whether it’s medical, autism, or Down. They are challenged and might be overwhelmed in traditional dance lessons. We are hoping through dance they can somehow connect.”

Meaux says dance has it all as an avenue toward personal development.

“It is music, dance, movement — a genre of creativity ,” she said. “Through dance, these children can find a place they can develop mentally, physically and psychologically.”

Meaux said her classes reflect her history as a self-taught dancer in that each child is allowed to find his or her own way toward expression through dance.

“We are not tightly structured, structured, structured,” she said. “Sometimes what works one week might not work the next. We might leap like froggies or jump and gallop like horses. We try to make it fun.”

Meaux’s assistant teachers are older students from her liturgical dance classes.

“They are volunteer students and I call them my assistant teachers,” she said. “They are learning to work with children, but I can’t pay them a salary.”

Meaux said after a year of Just for Me classes her students had their first dance recital recently.

“They went through a whole year of classes and had our recital,” she said. “It was really awesome. It brought tears to my eyes.”

Meaux wants to expand the classes out to other communities.

“We are looking at surrounding counties such as Decatur or the Moulton area,” she said. “I know the children are out there and we want them to know it’s here in Athens and they can access these classes.”

Those wanting more information on Just for Me dance classes should call 256-998-6382.

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