Lawrenceville dance instructor will be honored for commitment to inclusion
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Rhythm is a dancerIt's a soul's companion

Lawrenceville dance instructor will be honored for commitment to inclusion

Sam Skobel will receive the Shore-Whitehill Award from The Branch on Feb. 17

Sam Skobel, right, joins a dancer during a recital. Photo courtesy of Sam Skobel
Sam Skobel, right, joins a dancer during a recital. Photo courtesy of Sam Skobel

Sam Skobel appreciates the beauty of dance. Since the age of 2, the Lawrenceville resident has diligently practiced the art form. In recent years, however, her understanding has evolved.

As an instructor at Cynthia’s School of Dance in Ross Township, Skobel, 29, often introduces dance to diverse individuals.

Her efforts began six years ago.

At the time, a student in a wheelchair was in the studio watching a sibling’s class. Skobel asked the unenrolled child if she, too, wanted to dance. After the child said yes, Skobel worked with colleagues to create an opportunity “specifically fitted for her needs,” Skobel said.

The child, who is now 16, is still dancing.

“She did ballet the first three years and now she does jazz and hip-hop too, which is so cool,” Skobel said.

Skobel told the Chronicle about another case involving a neurodiverse child.

Four years ago, the student would only sit in her parent’s lap, cry and place her hands over her ears. Now 8, the child is still dancing and “really into tap,” Skobel said.

There have been numerous successes through the years, but the takeaway, she said, is that it’s essential to find “a way for everyone to dance.”

Having made good on that pledge time and again, Skobel is set to receive the Shore-Whitehill Award from The Branch, a Squirrel Hill-based organization that supports individuals with psychiatric, developmental or intellectual disabilities.

The Feb. 17 ceremony will occur during Temple Sinai’s Jewish Disability, Awareness, Acceptance and Impact Month (JDAIM) program, according to Alison Karabin, a program director at The Branch.

“I’m really appreciative to receive the award,” Skobel said, “but I’m also just really appreciative that it’s something that matters to the Jewish community as a whole.”

Sam Skobel, left, joins a student during dance class. Photo courtesy of Sam Skobel

Skobel grew up in Fairfax, Virginia, and graduated from Allegheny College. Her commitment to Pittsburgh — and bettering community — extends beyond teaching dance in the North Hills.

During her mornings and afternoons, Skobel is an early childhood educator at Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh, where she regularly works with students requiring an individualized education plan. She also assists Temple Sinai with its inclusion and disability-related programming and has delivered several divrei Torah at the synagogue.

Drew Barkley, Temple Sinai’s executive director, called Skobel “an inspiration to all of us,” and said that “anyone should aspire to her extraordinary commitment to inclusion.”

Skobel credited her mother, Robin Skobel, with modeling a strong commitment to inclusion.

The awareness the award is generating is a reminder that whether it’s in dance, or any other activity, a disability does not preclude participation and success, Sam Skobel said.

All that’s needed, she continued, is a willingness to adapt: “As soon as we started doing that at the dance studio, more people started dancing.”

The lesson, she said, is “if we start adapting the situation in more places, more people will start doing more things … and as soon as we start adapting, everyone will get a chance to do what they want to do.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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