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Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2013:11:06 16:06:30

Participants in the "Dancing with Our Stars" program at Total Tone Women's Fitness Studio, 100 Old Lackawanna Trail, Clarks Summit, have the chance to try out a variety of dance techniques, including disco, jazz, jive, polka and slow dancing. The classes run on Wednesday evenings at 6:45 p.m. and are instructed by Jo Akers. PHOTOS STEPHANIE LONGO

Laughter. Joy. Excitement.

Those three words perfectly described the atmosphere last week at Total Tone Women's Fitness, 100 Old Lackawanna Trail, for the inaugural session of "Dancing with Our Stars."

"This class is offered for students with Down's Syndrome, autism and other developmental disabilities," said owner Madelyn Mizenko. "It is a great way for them to get involved in an extracurricular activity while improving motor skills, confidence and socialization."

"Dancing with Our Stars" is offered on Wednesday evenings, beginning at 6:45 p.m. at the gym. Each drop-in session is $5 or families can purchase four-class packages for $20.

Instructor Jo Akers explained how she and Mizenko came up with the idea to host this class at Total Tone Women's Fitness.

"It is for the community - I did this program with the Abington Area Community Classroom in the past and it was popular," she said. "We wanted to continue it because it is very good for the kids; they are phenomenal. It is important to do things for the kids because, as they get older, there's not a lot for them to do and they enjoy it."

"When I leave, I am thanking God my whole way home because I get so much out of it," Akers added. "It is hard to explain, but it is important."

Participants in the one-hour class get to try their hand at disco, jazz, jive, polka, slow dancing and even a conga line. Akers explained that such a class is important for the children's stamina and self-confidence.

"From a fitness standpoint, movement is very important," she said. "They feel better about themselves and their agility is a little bit better."

"I think, for them, it makes them feel good to be a part of something because that's important," she continued. "They feel comfortable. I try to explain to people that when I look at them, I don't see anything different from what I am. I have feelings, I have thoughts and that's who they are as well."

Sherry Durkin of Olyphant brought her son, Kevin, to the class as a way to make new friends. She had nothing but praise for Akers's instruction.

"Jo is terrific. She gets the kids involved in it, which, sometimes is not an easy thing to do," she said. "Music is the universal language and the kids really enjoy the exercise and socialization."

Bert Morgan of Eynon explained that his daughter, Kayla, knows many of the other students from other activities.

"They have been playing together for years, between baseball, karate and other functions," he said. "This is good exercise for her and a good way to keep in touch with her friends, so we take her to events like this. These kids all do a lot of things together, based on the season. They participate to keep active and engaged."

For Akers, this class is not just about having fun while dancing, it is also about the friendships - and the memories - it creates.

"The kids feel comfortable here," she said. "When you're with them, in my opinion, you notice the camaraderie. They love each other. They come in and give each other hugs. If something happens, they say they are sorry. You don't see that in a school or in any other environment. In this class, you find a very comfortable pace and a comfortable feeling."

"You are loved by them just as much as they are loved by you," she added. "That's the way life needs to be."

For more information on "Dancing with Our Stars," call Total Tone Women's Fitness at 570-585-7200, email or visit