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The Force 2.0 dance studio in Farmington is offering a hip-hop class for Special Olympics athletes. Crista Farmer, owner of the studio, says, "They love to hug and love to dance. They just let go when they’re dancing." Steve Lewis/The Daily Times

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FARMINGTON — The owner of a Farmington dance studio is offering a hip-hop class specifically for Special Olympics athletes.

"I’ve just always had a passion for people with special needs and for Special Olympics," said Crista Farmer, owner of The Force 2.0 dance studio.

The Tuesday evening classes started in November and will conclude when students perform a hip-hop routine Dec. 9 at a Farmington High School basketball game.

Farmer said half of the students in the class are adults, some of whom are in their 40s, and the rest are children. The students have a range of intellectual disabilities, including autism and Down syndrome.

"I just think they’re so positive, outgoing and enthusiastic," Farmer said. "They love to hug and love to dance. They just let go when they’re dancing."

Debra Lisenbee, the area director for Special Olympics in San Juan County, jumped at the chance to encourage her athletes to enroll in the class.

"Every opportunity for them to participate in community things is awesome," Lisenbee said. "I always tell people that (the athletes) aren’t jumping in cars on Friday night to go do their thing, so we really appreciate when people in the community provide them with these opportunities."

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Special Olympics is the world’s largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual abilities. The local Special Olympics organization has more than 100 athletes registered to compete in various sports.

Lisenbee said giving the athletes a chance to compete or, in this case, perform in front of an audience is a positive experience. Often, she said, people are surprised at how well the athletes fare at competitions.

"And just like us, they love when the public comes to see them," she said. "We have a lot more in common with them than not, and when they’re able to do these things, it puts us all on a more even playing field."

Kelsey Emery, a dance instructors at The Force, is helping teach the Special Olympics class.

"I just love to see them having a great time," she said. "They’re just so enthusiastic, and I love sharing my love of dance with them. When the music comes on, just to see the smiles on their faces is great."

At a rehearsal on Tuesday, several students expressed enthusiasm for the class.

"I like to dance a lot, and it’s fun," said 36-year-old Kathleen Sharer, who has Down syndrome.

Her mother, Helen Sharer, was especially grateful for the positive benefits offered by the class.

"They’re finished with (Special Olympics) sports until January, so this is keeping it going," she said. "It also shows people they shouldn’t underestimate them."

Paula Drayton, mother of 12-year-old Deuce Drayton, said she welcomed the class, adding there aren’t enough arts-related activities for people with intellectual disabilities.

"With a lot of (mainstream) dance groups, these kids are not accepted, but they’re very accepted here," she said. "When I found out they were going to do this, I thought it was so awesome."

During Tuesday's class, Farmer instructed the students as they repeated their routine. She also had them practice walking out in front of an audience.

"Once you guys get out there, everyone will be yelling and clapping," she said. "You hold your heads high."

Leigh Black Irvin is the business editor for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4621.

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