DanceSyndrome founder teaches classes to Horizons clients in Steamboat

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — On Thursday morning Jon Ruehle didn’t have any problem showing off his dance moves on the polished floors  of Sundance Studio in Steamboat Springs.

As the music played in the background the Steamboat Springs High School senior spun around, hands in the air and with a huge smile on his face as he showed his friends one of his favorite dance moves. The effort elicited a room full of cheers, and yes, a giggle or two from his friends and the other participants who had come to the dance studio to take part is a special presentation by DanceSyndrome’s founder and director, Jen Blackwell.

“DanceSyndrome is my life, it’s my everything,” Blackwell said. “It’s my family, and I want to  share my passion for dance with everyone.”

Blackwell has loved dance since she was a child but ran into challenges in England where she grew up when dance studios turned her away because she had Down’s syndrome. But instead of giving up on her love of dance, Jen and her mother Sue started DanceSyndrome in 2009. Since then, the organization has been building a strong following and has allowed Blackwell continue to grow her love of dance.

“Dance was her passion, and  she wants to share her passion,” Sue Blackwell said. “Her goal is to get the world dancing, and she doesn’t mind who you are or where you come from. Nothing about you matters as long as she can engage with you and get you dancing.”

On Thursday morning, the young woman enticed more than a dozen people, including Ruehle, to attend the first of two dance classes for the day.

“We got involved because it’s the kind of thing that we really like to do,” said Sue Mizen , executive director with Horizons Specialized Services. “We like to bring new opportunities to the people in our programs but also to the community.”

While dancing is important, Sue Blackwell thinks the mission of the organization she founded with her daughter goes beyond the dance floor.

“Fundamentally we are about inspiring people,” she said, “We want people to sit up and take notice and to think differently and accept that every single person can achieve, in their own way, something that is powerful and personal to them.

“For Jen it is dance, but for other people, it could be any manner of things,” Sue continued. “It could be photography, it could be skiing or  it could be anything you want to dream up. The disability doesn’t have to get in the way. You can kick the disability to one side and plow your own farrow. You can be your own person, you can be confident and self assured and command respect and be valued and contribute to society.”

In 2016, Jen Blackwell spoke to the International Women’s Day Conference after she was named the Inspirational Woman of the Year by Enterprise Vision Awards in 2015. DanceSyndrome has also won several awards for its work and the organization keeps Jen and Sue busy traveling around England and the world to speak and teach.

The Blackwells were visiting Colorado on vacation this week and offered to put on sessions in Steamboat Springs on Thursday and Granby on Friday.

“Jen is all about getting the world dancing,” her mother said. “But my underlying passion is that everybody will be enabled, everyone will be woken up and will recognize that there are different ways of approaching needs and looking at people’s opportunities, assets and abilities.”

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

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