When Metter native Mallory Lanier Rosche entered the dance studio for the first time, she, like many little girls, had dreams of tutus and toe shoes.
Through years of dance classes and recitals, her love of dance grew. Now, those years of work, mostly in ballet shoes, have paid off as Rosche was recently named Occupational Therapy Practitioner of the Year for the Georgia Occupational Therapy Association. The honor was in part due to her work with special needs children through a dance program called Steps of Grace.
Mallory Rosche is currently an assistant professor in the College of Allied Health Sciences in the Department of Occupational Therapy at Augusta University, formerly the Medical College of Georgia. She is also director of the Low Vision Rehabilitation Clinic.
With a busy schedule as a practitioner and faculty member, Tuesdays provide Mallory with the creative outlet that she loves most.
Every Tuesday afternoon, Professor Mallory Rosche puts on her leotard and tights and transforms into Miss Mallory, who teaches ballet and tap dance lessons to almost 30 little girls, all of whom have special needs.
Although teaching dance through Steps of Grace is her “side job,” it is the aspect of Mallory’s career that brings her the most satisfaction.
The program began almost 10 years ago, and Mallory says, “I am grateful to teach these precious children.” Open to both girls and boys, in 2020 Steps of Grace has only ballerinas enrolled.
Teaching dance to special needs children is the perfect fit for their teacher.
Mallory’s mother, Montel Lanier, enrolled her daughter in dance when Mallory was 5 years old. The youngster took to the discipline and creativity of dance, spending as much time as possible in the dance studio while she was growing up.
While attending school at David Emanuel Academy, Mallory would rush home from school and head to the studio where she studied ballet and tap. By the time she was a high school student, she had begun assisting with teaching younger dancers under the direction of her instructor.
Classes and performances were a way of life for Mallory as she attended college at Georgia Southern University. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology, which is the study of the mechanics of body movement. She then attended Graduate School at the Medical College of Georgia, studying Occupational Therapy, receiving the Master of Health Science in Occupational Therapy.
Throughout all of those years of education, Mallory danced and taught while keeping up with her academic studies. The dancer has performed major rolls in such classic ballets as The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake in addition to tapping her way through musicals including Mame and Hello Dolly! among others.
Today, Mallory and her Steps of Grace dancers meet at Pulse Dance Center in Martinez, Georgia. There the youngsters are instructed by the licensed and registered occupational therapist who has a background in pediatrics. The program is specially designed for children who have special needs.
According to Mallory, the goal of Steps of Grace is to provide these children with quality dance instruction and instill in the students a love for dance.
Due to the nature of Steps of Grace, dance class looks a little different. The registration form includes questions such as “What is your child’s diagnosis? Does your child require assistance with mobility and balance? And describe any special sensory, behavioral, medical or other concerns.”
For the 2020-2021 dance year, three classes are taught on Tuesday afternoons. The younger children are in a 3-6 year old ballet class or a 7-9 year old ballet class. The older dancers, ages 10 through high school age, take both ballet and tap lessons. Mallory states that the dancers love the classes because dance presents a fun way to work on necessary skills.
“The classes are fun,” says Mallory, “but they also address important skills with which many children with special needs have difficulty.”
The physical skills include improvement of balance, bilateral coordination and integration; however, cognitive skills such as problem-solving and development of social skills also improve.
The program relies on the volunteers who give of their time to assist and provide individualized attention for students who require “a little extra help” during the weekly lessons.
Mallory loves to watch the children grow and change through their study of dance. One of the highlights of her year is the annual recital when the costumed dancers with the hair and makeup of any other performers take the stage before an audience filled with parents and friends who are bursting with pride at seeing their special needs child taking part in what is a rite of passage for many children.
In 2020, the hearts of the dancers and their teacher were broken because the annual recital was canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Mallory says the dancers are working hard this year and are keeping their fingers crossed that there will be a performance in 2021.
Mallory admits that after doing her primary job of teaching Occupational Therapy students at Augusta University and working as a clinician in the low vision clinic, teaching dance to youngsters is exhausting, but she adds, “Exhausting in the best way possible.”
Mallory Lanier Rosche is the daughter of Jimmy and Montel Lanier and is the granddaughter of Louise Lanier and grew up in the northern part of Candler County. She is a graduate of DEA.