Miss Idaho 1994: A Special Friend
by Ramona Walhof

Reprinted from a 1995 issue of the Gem Stone Milestones, the newsletter of the NFB of Idaho.

Editor's Note: Can blind children learn to move gracefully? Can they learn to dance? The following article, which describes how one outstanding young woman shared her talent with underpriviledged blind children, seemed a good campanion to the preceding one about "Creative Movement." Here it is:

Tracy Yarbrough, Miss Idaho 1994, is ending her reign this month, but she will be remembered as caring, talented, and beautiful. She has been a dancer and a singer since early childhood, and the NFB of Idaho has been privileged to have her at two of our events. Last October Miss Yarbrough joined us for an art auction, and this spring she sang for our fashion show. Her voice reminds one of Patsy Kline, and she says that is what is intended.

Tracy Yarbrough grew up in Tennessee in a loving and supportive family. By the age of 12 she had so much success in gymnastics and ballet that she had to choose to specialize in one. She chose ballet. She practiced 3 hours a day, 7 days a week, and performed in the best shows. At age 6 she was the angel in the Nutcracker. By the age of 16 she was the lead. In addition to the Snow Queen, she danced numerous other solo parts. Also at 16 she began dance instruction.

Naturally, Miss Yarbrough knew most of the dancers in Memphis. A friend, Miss Farris, was teaching a dance class for young, blind, low-income children. Tracy was interested. She offered to help. Finding that she enjoyed this activity very much, she gradually took over most of the teaching.

The dance class came about because a supervisor of instruction of blind children in the Memphis school district (who also happened to be a member of the NFB) thought that a dance class might help underpriviledged blind children become better prepared for first grade. It did.

This class was important enough to Tracy that, for five years, she commuted every Wednesday morning from college in another city to Memphis to volunteer her time to teach the dance lessons.

Tracy told me why she loved it, and why the children loved it, too. Zachery was a five-year-old she will never forget. At first he was not cooperative at all. He would go into the corner and sit down, singing along with the music instead of trying to dance. Therefore, he was dropped from the dance class for awhile. When he returned it was on condition that he cooperate and work.

We who work with the blind know that too often expectations are not high for blind children, and this may have been the first time Zachery had to measure up. Miss Yarbrough and Miss Farris—who were not specially trained in blindness—did keep expectations high, and found ways to stimulate these young blind children through dance—something they did know well. Zachery responded and within a year became the top dancer in the group. He was ready to go on to the first grade and graduated out of the dance class. There is no doubt that it helped him meet the world.

Tracy describes her work with the children. She says it was easier for the children to learn the dance movements when she moved their arms, legs, and other parts of their bodies rather than when they felt hers. This is not surprising. Miss Yarbrough is a small woman, but to a five-year-old, it would be hard to reach as far as necessary. She also learned that it was good for the children to help one another. Both the strong and weak dancers benefited from this peer help.

Tracy found that the children enjoyed ballet and learned the same routines she taught to sighted children. But the rhythmic sounds of the tap dancing were even better. Music provided motivation to these children. A special privilege was to turn the tapes on and start the music. Not all blind people are musical, but sound is interesting to most blind persons.

Miss Farris resumed the instruction of the class in Memphis when Tracy moved to Boise to finish college at Boise State University. During her senior year she was urged to try for Miss Idaho, and she won. She has represented the State well and is passing on the crown. The blind of Idaho are among the many who have been enriched by getting to know her.

When I asked if she would like to teach dance to blind children again, Tracy's tone was of absolute certainty. "Of course," she said. Her common sense and caring have made an important difference for at least 20 small, blind, underprivileged children like Zachery.