536 – Without Limits – Building People Up, One Performance at a Time
Hosts: Steve Boese, Trish McFarlane
Guest: Kati Hassall, Director at Without Limits Dance Company
This episode of At Work in America is sponsored by Paychex, one of the leading providers of HR, payroll, retirement, and insurance solutions for businesses of all sizes. The current business and hiring environment has redefined what it takes to succeed as an HR professional, requiring HR leaders to adapt and innovate at lightning speed to help their organizations remain competitive.Download the 2022 Paychex Pulse of HR report to discover the tools and tactics your peers are using to deliver on both HR and business objectives — faster, and at scale — while still meeting the evolving needs of their employees.Visit payx.me/PHR2022 to download your copy, today.
This week, we met with Kati Hassall to talk about working with individuals with disabilities and how to help them achieve their goals.
– Without Limits Dance Company background and info
– Importance of participating in the performing arts
– Inclusion and belonging, and how Without Limits is bringing their performers and the community together
– How to support the efforts at Without Limits
Learn more here
Thank you, Kati, for joining the show today! Remember to subscribe to the HR Happy Hour wherever you get your podcasts.
Welcome to At Work in America sponsored by Paychex. We welcome a wide and exceptionally impressive array of guests, business leaders, HR leaders, academics, practitioners, consultants and authors to talk about the most timely, relevant and challenging issues that are influencing the workplace today. At Work in America digs in behind the headlines and trends to the stories of real people making a difference in the world of work. And now here are your hosts, Steve Boese and Trish McFarlane Steed.
We have a great show for you. Today we are going to be talking with Kati Hassall, the Without Limits Dance Company director about working with individuals with disabilities and how to help them achieve their goals. But this is a great show Trish, I’m super excited about this topic.
I am too. We keep finding more and more stories of people who are really trying to do something meaningful, whether it’s with children or adults in the workplace. I think it all ties together so I’m super excited to hear her story.
Before we welcome Kati, I want to thank our friends at Paychex. Of course, this episode of At Work in America is sponsored by Paychex, one of the leading providers of HR, payroll, retirement and insurance solutions for businesses of all sizes. Nearly 1/3 of us employees say their work schedule still remains unpredictable. As a result of the pandemic factor they report it’s having a significant effect on their overall wellbeing, from causing financial stress to feeling disconnected from family and friends. And this appears to be affecting younger generations the most. To learn more about these findings and how you can optimize work scheduling to help better support your employees. Please visit pyx.me/schedules today, and thanks to our friends at Paychex.
Alright, Trish, let’s get on with it. Let’s welcome to the show, Kati Hassall. She is the Without Limits director. She has always had a passion for helping individuals with disabilities accomplish their wildest dreams. Kati started Without Limits Dance Company in 2017. She has been a special education teacher for four years with a master’s degree in special education, and has been involved in the dance world for 16 years. Kati also has a two year old son all right. I don’t know how you’re doing all this with any wonderful, supportive husband, which I guess helps. Kati, welcome to the show. How are you today?
Kati Hassall 2:46
I’m great. Thanks so much for having me. I’m so excited.
You’ve got a full plate, which is pretty incredible what you’re doing, which is outstanding as well, I’d love for you to share with us and our audience. Just a little bit about the background a little bit about what took you to this place, right, Without Limits Dance Company and working with kids mostly right, or maybe all kids who have disabilities and maybe sort of giving them exposure to some things that maybe traditionally they maybe have a difficult time getting exposed to.
Kati Hassall 3:19
Without Limits, like you said, started in 2017. I have a uncle that has Down syndrome. Or I did, he passed away. And then my mom has been a special education teacher for 32 years. So I’ve been around individuals that are differently abled my entire life, I grew up with it. That’s just what I’ve known. So I’ve always had a passion for helping those that are differently abled. Now 2017 rolled around and we were noticing that my then fiance, I went to him one day, and I was like, you know, we’re just I’m getting all these complaints from like my students at school. Not having the ability to stay in a typical dance class. There wasn’t things that they needed. There wasn’t teachers that were, I guess, lacking patience, kind of to deal with our kiddos needs. And I was like, you know, what we should do is we should just open a studio for these kids. Like they need something we need something in our community like this. And so without limits came to be in 2017. We opened our first class in 2018. We were in two locations. We started off with about 20 kids. And so far we have grown into about 40 students now we help kids all the way from two years old to 50 years old.
Kati Hassall 4:52
Yeah, so we have a little bit of everyone and their disabilities range from ADHD to Cerebal Palsy, we have everybody all over. And it is just the absolute greatest thing. It is the best place ever.
You know, I have so many questions, but I think the first one that just comes to mind is, how are people finding you? I mean, it sounds like obviously you’re a teacher, right? You teach people with different abilities other than just sort of normal advertising, right? Getting something like this started in your community is sort of a big step. How are you finding, you know, all of these students, because you’re obviously experiencing a lot of growth?
Kati Hassall 5:32
Yeah, social media has been a huge help. We do have a Facebook page, we have Instagram. Luckily, we have a lot of really good support from the community that has been helpful in like either sponsorships or just like parades. Sometimes we’re involved in parades. And we do a lot of community, not outreach, but like performances as well just kind of to get our name out there.
That’s great. With performing arts, I mean, obviously, it’s something that a lot of people start when they’re very young, but you mentioned that you have people, you know, as old as 50, maybe in in these classes, what kind? Can you talk a little bit about the classes in general, like, what kinds of classes are they experiencing? And how, how do you sort of accommodate people maybe with different, whether it be a mental disability? Or it could be a physical disability? Or maybe even both? How do you sort of help them? And do they have different classes for them?
Kati Hassall 6:28
Yeah, of course. So all of our kiddos or our adults are together, they’re split by age. So we have an elementary age class. And then we have a middle school and up class, and we just have seen that kind of those classes work better for our kids to separate them. Now, they’re not separated by disability, everybody is in one class together. We call ourselves an inclusive Dance Company, because we do allow kiddos that are typical to be in the dance company if they so choose. However, the majority of our students are differently abled individuals, there are split, the classes are split. Each class is a different genre. So they get a different taste of dance style every single week. So we’re on a rotating schedule with four we do jazz, palm, ballet and tap. And so each week, they do a different genre. Right now we’re only doing two we’re doing jazz and tap, because we’re getting ready for our recital, guys, yeah, it’s gonna be great. We also have a cheerleading squad, we have a rhythmic gymnastics team that competes for Special Olympics, we have a competitive dance team that goes to competitions and competes. So we have everything. But in regards to kind of how we work with different abilities. We have what we call our our buddies. And these are our volunteers that come in and help the kiddos that maybe need a little bit more help than others, whether it be standing up, holding them, helping them in their Walker, whatever they need, our buddies are there to assist them with. And then we have our main teacher teaching the class, we go at the pace that accommodates our students the best, and we go at a skill level that fits the majority of the class.
You sort of touched on the answer to the next question I was going to ask, which is, you know, this is a lot to take on. And I was the question I had was you did you have helped? Are there other folks on the staff and or volunteers? So you, you mentioned that a little bit, I’d love for you maybe to maybe talk a little bit more about the, you know, what you’re looking for what kinds of folks can kind of thrive in that role and be better supportive of the kids and or adults who are in the classes like what what do you need out of that staff and or volunteers to, you know, to be successful and help the kids be successful?
Kati Hassall 8:56
Yeah, I’m, I have been so lucky because I have a great team behind me. So I have somebody that’s in charge of my cheer team. I have somebody that’s in charge of my rhythmic gymnastics team. And then I have a co director whose name is also Katie. It’s really, it’s really great when everybody’s just shouting Miss Katie, Miss Katie, Miss Katie. And we’re like, who? Which one? Um, but so I mean, in order to be a volunteer and to work with our kids, all we ask is that you have a passion for helping those that are differently abled, you know, this, is it’s all volunteer. None of us get paid for this. We do this because we feel like this is the right thing to do. Everybody deserves a chance to dance. And so we just look for people. We don’t even care if you’ve never danced before. We just want people that are going to love our kids and that are going to be there for kids and that are willing to help.
That’s fantastic. Do you find that you get a wide variety of ages within your volunteer or your teaching? I sort of helpers as well.
Kati Hassall 10:02
You know, after COVID hit a lot of our volunteers either went home from college, we had a lot of college kids that were helping us out because we were in Lebanon, located close to McKendree. So we had a lot of McKendree kids coming out to help us. But after the pandemic hit, we did lose a lot of our volunteers just because that that was life at the time. But we have had all the way from middle school, we usually have them help. One of our main helpers actually is one of our kiddos sisters. Miss Angelica. She’s fabulous. She started helping us when she was like, fifth sixth grade. Beautiful soul. And so all the way from that age. And we’ll like adults will come in and help sometimes. Yeah, it’s a huge variety of ages.
Kati, I wanted to ask about the studio has been open for a few years now. And I’m wondering if you’ve had some kids maybe who started with you or near about when you started maybe with with you for a while perhaps Are you still with you? Are there any kind of, I don’t know, stories over time that you’ve seen where what’s been the impact on some of the kids, especially the ones that maybe have been with you for for a number of years?
Kati Hassall 11:22
This is one of my favorite things to talk about. Because not only have our kids found friends, so I’ve had the majority of my kids actually have been with me since the very beginning. Which is such a blessing. I’ve watched these, these girls and boys go from middle schoolers or grade schoolers all the way up to high schoolers are graduating from high school. And it’s it’s just been such an amazing experience. But, I think the biggest thing is that they have friends now and their parents have have a support system. Because sometimes when you’re in this community, there’s not a lot of people in your corner sometimes or that don’t really understand or can’t really see where you’re coming from if you’re a big advocate or. And I think that that has just been the coolest thing is that my kids are able to go over to each other’s houses, they’re able, they’ve, they’re invited to birthday parties, now. They go out to eat with each other. And these moms are able, and even the dads are able to have these parents behind them and backing them. So Without Limits has just become a huge family. And it’s been amazing to see.
I think it’s so interesting, too, that you’re you’re not just building something for each of these individuals. But you’ve built a community it sounds like right, there’s this whole support system. One thing that I would would love to hear more about is, we recently did an episode with a gentleman who had created some research and a program around how athletics, impact women in the workplace and how being an athlete can really help young women develop in general. I know dance is obviously an extremely athletic endeavor. Can you maybe talk a little bit about from the perspective of being, again, maybe differently abled, whether that be mentally physically, both whatever? How does being involved in without limits, help these, say the younger ones? Get ready for the workplace? What kind of skills are they learning that are really going to carry over well, and helping them be, you know, maybe really productive workers that companies can consider in the future?
Kati Hassall 13:49
I think the biggest thing that our kids learn is confidence. And I think that is such a transferable skill. You know, I’ve had kids that have gone from not talking to doing solos on stage, and competing them in front of 1000s of people. And I’ve had dancers that have went on and have cheered at state competitions, and have just formed in front of all these people. And I just think that we’ve been able to watch not only their social skills grow, but also that confidence that they need to be able to be in the workforce, but just in everyday society, they’re learning these transferable skills.
I think that’s great. You also mentioned, you know, the Special Olympics. Right, and Steve and I have done a show too, with some Special Olympians. It’s been a little bit maybe a little over a year ago or so. But could you could you talk about like, what other? Are there other activities that any of your kids are sort of participating in? You mentioned just now some, you know, state level competitions and things like that. So what role I would say, Does competition kind of play in the lives of these performers. And what other types of competition for example, like Special Olympics are you kind of getting them involved or ready for.
Kati Hassall 15:10
So my whole thing is, Without Limits is, you know, not only a family and a community, and it’s an opportunity for these kids to perform, but the whole purpose is for people to see that it is possible to have special education dance classes at your studio, and that you can include these individuals, because that’s what they are they these are people to. So I take them to typical competitions, they do compete in adaptive categories, but people are able to see them and see what they’re capable of. And I think that’s super important. I have them, they do do Special Olympics, we do have a lot of athletes that so we offer more of like the arts, obviously, we do the dance and the cheer and rhythmic gymnastics is a Special Olympic sport. And we’ll start offering that again in January. But I think the main thing is is just kind of their exposure to the to the world, which I really enjoy for them, like my kids are up there competing. So loads with typical kids. And it’s, it’s amazing to see.
That’s great. Well, that’s how we heard of you, too, was you know, my niece, was that a competition? And actually, you all were there as well. So I think that you’re right that definitely, it just shows everyone what the abilities are instead of just talking about it right, you’re actually there you’re seeing it and give me so blown away and impressed. They’re doing everything that the other kids are doing.
Kati Hassall 16:47
And they practice the same, like I mean, some of these studios, they, you know, have these kids that are training and training and training all week long. Well, these kids are training all week long to so they’re in there, they’re practicing, they’re doing their solos, they’re doing their group routines, they’re going to practice on Sundays, they have practices that literally last all day long, they go from like 10 to four in the afternoon. So I mean, they’re they’re putting in the time and effort to that’s great.
One question I had was just, you were inspired right? To create the Without Limits Dance Company from you know, your experience as a teacher your upbringing, right from your, your, your experiences with your uncle and your mom’s experiences, special education teacher as well? Are there other similar kinds of places? Maybe not in your town or anything? Because you know, but are you aware of other studios, like yours are doing kind of the thing you’re doing? Are you kind of creating this new thing that hopefully others will be inspired by?
Kati Hassall 17:50
When I initially started Without Limits, I had not heard of a studio similar to ours. There are studios that do offer some special education classes that are close to us, which is so great. And I am so appreciative of those studios. I think that that’s such a wonderful thing for typical studios to offer. But other than that there was not a dance company specifically made for individuals with special needs in this area. Now after without limits was created. I did some research, and the closest one I could find was actually in Florida. Wow. Yeah. And then recently, I just discovered another one that is in blue. I think it’s in St. Charles, but they’re a little bit closer than Florida.
Yeah, but like the kind of thing that, you know, at least any midsize town or city, certainly larger place could benefit from this kind of thing. And many students could benefit from this thing. I think it’s pretty clear.
Kati Hassall 18:53
Yes, I think so too. Yeah, a lot of kids could definitely benefit from it.
Now, Kati, being a special education teacher, you obviously have the training and background. And you said that some of the volunteers don’t even need to have a dance background, for example. But whether it’s coming to your studio and participating there, maybe as a teacher, or whether it was say someone who’s hearing this maybe in another city who’s thinking wow, we really need that I would like to learn more about doing that. What kind of skills do you need to both start something like this or even be a teacher? What background is most helpful?
Kati Hassall 19:32
I think that obviously having some kind of background working with those that are differently abled is obviously a huge thing that you are going to need in order to open a studio like this. So all of our teachers, either our special education teachers or like speech language pathologist, so they do work with individuals that are differently abled, or they’re the mothers of some of the kids on our team. So everybody has experienced those that are differently abled, I don’t think you just want to throw yourself into this and be like, hey, I can do this. Because, yes, if you have the heart, then for sure you can. But I do think that having kind of that background and that knowledge of, okay, this, these are some mindfulness techniques, or these are some calming strategies, or these are things that this specific need is going to need help with or like even toileting or things like that. Not that we do that, but just, you know, maybe you would have to, I think that is a strong foundation for you to have just some of that prior background knowledge, whether it be from your own family or from an education standpoint.
Yeah, that makes sense. And again, if I were, you know, across the country, and maybe my child’s in a dance studio that doesn’t offer this, or maybe I have a disabled child who I want to go to my local dance studio, maybe even just giving planting that seed with them, like, Hey, you might want to reach out to some local, you know, teachers who have this type of experience to get something like that even one class maybe started so. Right. So it’s possible. But yeah, it does make sense that you would need to have those sorts of skills in advance.
Kati Hassall 21:19
And I think if you’re working with the kids from like, when they’re really little, and you’ve grown up with their these kiddos, because some of the studios around here that do offer those classes have seen have had these kids from when they’re little all the way up till now. And they’ve formed such fabulous relationships with them, but just building that rapport with those kids as well.
Kati, where would like to see, I don’t know, if you do have plans to you know, build out more locations, you know, bring this concept and bring this opportunity to other cities like well, what would you love to see happen with, with allemande stance company moving forward?
Kati Hassall 22:03
I mean, a huge dream of mine would obviously be for Without Limits to kind of be everywhere. My goal is for other studios to see that this is something that can happen at your studio, you can offer these classes to kids, and you know, it’s just something that can happen. So our immediate plans are to kind of keep going in the direction we’re going, like I said, we kind of had a little bit of a fall off with the pandemic hit and everything like every business did. But we have been on the up and up. But we would like, you know, to have our own studio, we would like to offer more classes, my, my huge dream would be for without limits to be a full time job for me. And I would just like me to have a building and I would sit there with my kids all day long. That’s the dream. But we’ll get there when we get there.
Well, hopefully there’ll be someone who’s listening to this interview, who will say you know what, we want to get involved with you. Right? So that would just be fabulous. Well, I know you mentioned you’re on Facebook and Instagram, like where can people if they want to contact you right for whether they want to donate to this if they want to participate with you, if they want to help you fulfill this larger dream? Where can they go and get more information.
Kati Hassall 23:26
So we do have a website. It’s not up to date, I don’t think it might be right now might need a little changing. But that’s without limits dance co.com. And then we have our Facebook page, which is Without Limits Dance Company and then our Instagram page, which is Without Limits Dance Company.
Yeah, we would encourage folks to reach out learn more, I do think there’s just bound to be, you know, from obviously, from this show, and other other ways that we can spread the word about Without Limits that there’s, I think there’s just got to be a lot of parents out there, right, who are would be just so appreciative and excited about the opportunity to present this type of an opportunity for their kids, right? Who, as Kati said, often these kids get kind of looked past a little bit and don’t get exposure to the kinds of opportunities be it in performing arts, or sports or even some of the academic types of activities that kids get up to in school and outside of school. And, and I think one of the things we’ve learned from doing the various shows we’ve done, whether it was the ones with the Special Olympics, kids or the ones even even a topic as you know, job helping job formerly incarcerated folks get back into the workplace, right? We hear time and time again, is many folks from all different backgrounds. They just need a chance. They just need an opportunity. They need someone to kind of reach out a hand and say yeah, we I’m going to support you. And we’re going to do this really cool thing together. And I think that’s really one of the great lessons from what Kati and the team is doing. Without Limits Dance Company.
Kati Hassall 25:10
Yeah. Thank you so much. That’s I mean, you’re exactly right. Just give them a chance. Because these are people to, they’re able to do so much more than people give them credit for. These are amazing kids and young adults. And yeah, they just need that opportunity.
That’s awesome. Great stuff. I love this kind of stuff. Trish, I’m so glad we’re able to have Kati on the show today.
I am too and you know, she’s based in Belleville, Illinois, which is like my backyard practically. Right? We’re very close. She’s just up the road. But it’s just inspiring that you’re you’re doing this first of all, and and also, I’m happy to hear you have aspirations to just take this sort of to that next level, I hope that, you know, whatever, maybe minor setbacks you’ve had during the pandemic have finally kind of passed and hopefully, you’ll be kind of getting more interest in in making those dreams come true. Because, like Steve mentioned, whether it’s from the perspective of the kids who are needing these types of opportunities to participate in to build those skills that will help them in both life and potentially work. Or whether it’s maybe teachers, right? If you’re a teacher who is studying this, and you want to find a different way to get involved and use your skills, right, while you’re in college, what a great way to get involved and volunteer, or whether you’re just someone in your community who wants to find a really interesting way to give back. I think it’s sort of, I don’t know, it feels like feels like somebody that could touch so many different people in so many different levels. And and then you get the bonus right of their recitals or their competition dances or cheers and, and actually seeing kind of the fruits of your labor, which a lot of times when we volunteer or even work, we don’t necessarily see that right at the end. So it’s, it’s really cool to hear that you’ve got got this program going for us.
Great stuff. All right. We will make sure to put the links to all the Without Limits Dance Company kind of properties, website, Facebook page, Instagram, all the things. We do encourage folks to connect with them learn a little bit more maybe get involved if you’re able to, if you’re if you’re in the we’re talking about Southern Illinois, is that where we’re at Southern Illinois area, Metro, but even beyond that, right? There are ways to maybe figure out how to take this concept a little bit bigger and create more opportunity for kids all over the place, which would be an awesome thing. So alright, thanks so much, Kati. Great to see you. Thank you for spending some time with us today. Trish great stuff, loved it. Love the topic and I’m so glad we’re able to do it.
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