By Jessica Tuggle
SEBASTIAN -- On Wednesday evenings, the Sebastian Boys and Girls Club basketball court rings with the squeak of tennis shoes and thud of footsteps, but one thing that is missing is a bouncing ball.
That's when at 6:30 p.m., anywhere between 20 and 40 members of a Sebastian hip-hop team assemble onto the basketball court for a free, hour-long class learning hip-hop dance routines.
Team founder and head coach, Tinamarie Ioffredo of Sebastian, started the team two years ago so her daughter could have a place to express herself through dance.
"My daughter Gabby is a special needs child and she loves to dance," Ms. Ioffredo said.
After a disappointing experience at a dance class, Ms. Ioffredo decided to make her own dance class and open it to special needs and mainstream dancers.
"I started with 12 kids and I have 40 now," she said.
The dance class is free and the group is currently investigating how to become a nonprofit organization.
The participants recently performed at the Fellsmere Frog Leg Festival and Sebastian River High School and are preparing for future performances.
Her 11-year-old daughter Gabby loves the high-energy music and the excitement of learning dance steps with other dance students, who range in age from 3 to 40, Ms. Ioffredo said.
"You can do any dance moves in hip-hop, it's not like ballet with the plies and turns, they can do anything and have fun," she said.
The smiles on the faces of the dance students are contagious, and the parents and grandparents watching on the sidelines also enjoy the weekly practices.
Carol Coppage of Vero Beach takes her granddaughter, Madison Earmen, 9, to the class to have fun and teach her how to develop relationships with people with mental or physical challenges.
"We go every week unless one of us is sick. The kids just have a blast together," Ms. Coppage said. "Tina and I have really hit it off and become close friends. She has enough energy for three people."
Karen Tremblay of Sebastian says her daughter, Gabriela, 9, also enjoys the class.
"She loves to be around the special needs dancers. She also is very supportive and enjoys cheering on the special needs swim team here in Sebastian," Ms. Tremblay.
The dance team allows shy and withdrawn students, both mainstream and special needs, to come out of their shell and just be themselves, she said.
"The music is a mix of popular hits and hip-hop music, but all the lyrics are clean, the choreography is not very suggestive and the girls are not allowed to dress inappropriately during class," Ms. Coppage said. "All the kids are different, their ages and their abilities, but it's a great place to meet someone new and have a really good time."
The team sponsors include Island Smoothie Café, Skyline Design, The Centerpiece, Brandt's Appliance Services, Indian River Gymnastics Academy, the Frog Leg Festival, Nellie's Boutique and several individual donors.
Anyone wanting to sponsor can contact Ms. Ioffredo for more information.
For more information about the hip-hop team, contact Ms. Ioffredo at (772) 646-1994.