Dancers say, “If you have a body, you can dance.” This is more than a platitude for Jasmine Mathew of Jasmine’s Beat. It’s her life’s work.
Mathew is a recreational therapist with a background in Bharatanatyam classical Indian dance and Bollywood styles of dance. She had always performed and taught dance on the side, but she also found that her therapy clients, whether in nursing homes or hospitals or special education settings, showed interest in dancing, too. When she moved to Texas seven years ago, she found little in the way of dance for special needs populations and decided to start her own company that specialized in combining her professions. Jasmine’s Beat was born.
“Adaptive dance is creating choreography or movement for persons of all disabilities, all abilities, all ages,” she explains. “Currently what we use is adaptive fusion dance. That takes choreography based on foundations of all kinds of dance — ballet, jazz, hip hop, Bollywood, tap and different types of cultural dances.”
Headquartered in Frisco, Jasmine’s Beat is a company that goes to the clients. It has no studio of its own, so Jasmine’s Beat must seek out partners to host classes and performances. Mathew employs seven part-time teachers who take adaptive dance to nursing homes, hospitals and schools, or else they partner with other organizations such as the Dance Council of North Texas or Starcatchers, a therapeutic arts program of North Texas Performing Arts. “We go place to place to make it easier for that population,” Mathew says. They work with clients from the age of three to senior citizens all over Collin County and beyond.
Besides teaching students, Mathew offers adaptive dance training to other recreational therapists through one-day workshops, which are both in person and virtual. These workshops are accredited for continuing education units in the recreational therapy field.
For her own teachers, Mathew has her trainees follow a lead teacher for a year before they’re given their own classes. “I try to find someone who has experience in working with this population and/or has experience in dance,” she explains. “It takes a certain type of person to have the flexibility to work with the population, who can change up the choreography according to the needs of the student.”
Though no student is required to perform publicly, Jasmine’s Beat offers recitals and other performances to expose the general public to what is possible for people who otherwise are seen as disabled or limited. “As rec therapists, we want to be able to advocate for them and educate their community,” she says.
One family is quick to share the benefits of Jasmine’s Beat program. Carolyn Butterfield’s son, Quinn, is a young adult on the autism spectrum. They came to know Mathew’s work via the Starcatchers program, where Quinn has been involved in musical theater. Butterfield praises Mathew’s ability to challenge the performers while keeping it appropriate to their abilities. While Quinn had shown an aptitude for singing and memorizing lines, they were surprised by how he took to Mathew’s choreography. “He’s blossomed in his confidence,” she says. “It’s something we didn’t know he could do.”
Quinn’s older sister, Melanee, also recounted a story of Mathew’s effect on students. Melanee was serving as an usher for a Starcatchers production of Frozen. Melanee chatted with a family who was there with a little girl in a wheelchair. The girl was a student of Mathew’s and the mother encouraged the girl to show off some of the moves she’d learned. Melanee related how the little girl lit up with excitement, spinning her wheelchair with choreographed arm gestures. “You could just tell that she loved life. She felt beautiful, she felt confident.”
Despite keeping a busy schedule and having fans like the Butterfield family, Mathew is always eager to hear from organizations that might be interested in bringing adaptive dance to their site. “They can check out our website, where there’s a contact form,” she says. “We usually have a contract, but the first class is typically a free trial class to see if it’s a good fit for their students.”
The same contact form can be used by anyone who has an interest in giving some time and energy to the cause. Says Mathew, “We’re always looking for assistants and volunteers.” Whether in class, in a performance or behind the scenes, volunteers get to participate in important, life-changing work.
The Jasmine’s Beat website has listings for classes around North Texas, including in-person and virtual instruction. Upcoming performances are also listed. Collin County residents can likely find something within easy driving distance.