Campbellsport dance groups allows individuals with special needs the chance to perform

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KEWASKUM, Wis. (CBS 58) -- As members of the Shining Stars Dance Team took their positions for a performance at Kewaskum's Party on the Pavement celebration on June 21, a crowd of eager onlookers gathered to watch.

"I never get nervous," said Audra Stoffel, a member of the dance group. "I just think about God on my side, and every time and I know He'll say 'It's going to be okay' and 'Dance your heart out.'"

Audra did just that, dancing away with a smile on her face to the three choreographed songs she and the 20 other members of her group have worked so hard to learn and perform. The hard work and dedication is nothing new. She's been a part of the group, which gives individuals with special needs the ability to dance and perform, for seven years."

"I love to get to know people a lot and I love dancing in a group," Audra said with a big smile. "Mary is the best dance coach."

The 'best dance coach' Audra is referring to is Mary Bilgo, a former Campbellsport High School dance coach and the founder of the Shining Stars Dance Team. Mary was partly inspired to start the program after growing up with a younger brother who had cerebral palsy.

"Just growing up with someone with special needs, it just warms your heart," Mary said. "When I see someone out in the community and they're maybe in a wheelchair, or maybe they're autistic, they're doing some repetitive motion. I physically have to go over there and talk to them; be with them."

For the past seven years, Mary has made it her mission to not only spend time with individuals impacted by special needs, but provide them with the opportunity to dance, have fun, and be a part of a team.

"It's a great job. Good thing for the kids and I think it's wonderful for the parents," Mary said. "Anyone is welcome to come, with any special need."

There is no fee or age requirement to join the Shining Stars Dance Team. The group practices Saturdays at the Campbellsport High School and usually performs during the winter months at half time of girls' basketball games.

"You can't be sad," said Jodi Garvey, an assistant coach with the group. "No matter what's going on in your life, you can't be sad when you're around these kids."

Bilgo and Garvey have assistance most weekends from the Campbellsport Dance Team. Members of the team help the Shining Stars learn the choreography and dance to the music. It's a mutually beneficial experience.

"It's just crazy to see how much this means to them," said Rebecca Bolz, a recent graduate of Campbellsport High School and a former member of the dance team. "This is their one thing that they have to look forward to every week, and to be a part of something that means so much to them is really just very special."

The dedication from all involved in making the dance team possible is appreciated by the dancers and parents alike. Parents like Audra's mom, Vicki Stoffel.

"She just gets such joy out of it and you can see they're just dancing their heart out," Stoffel said. "As a parent, everybody wants their child to be included and involved in part of a team or part of a group. Our kids don't often get that opportunity, sad to say. To be included in a group where they can feel a part of it; it's huge."

It's for that reason Mary expects the group to last for years and years to come.

"I don't see it ever dying because I think the parents, what they show and what they just tell me, how much they just love the program, it'd be pretty hard to quit," Mary said. "Every year we get someone new, and we don't lose that many."

As for Audra, she plans to be dancing each one of those years.

"I been thinking like 10 or 100 (years)," Audra said, when asked how long she will be a part of the group. "I just keep dancing and I just love doing it and I'm just going to do it all year."

For anyone interested in joining, email Mary at marybilgo@gmail.com or message the Shining Stars Dance Team on Facebook for more information.

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