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SISTER ACT: Local girls get national attention for performance

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By Stephen Thomas

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - What do you really see when you look into the mirror?

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Gracie Latkovski sees herself dancing ballet. Thanks to her sister, Quincy, so can everyone else.

The sisters recently won at the JAMfest Super Nationals dance competition for their special performance, one that has gone worldwide through social media.

The special dance shows a special bond between the sisters. It also shows that, despite Gracie’s physical condition, anyone can achieve anything if they believe it in their minds and hearts.

‘READY’

Quincy, 11, and Gracie, 9, have been dancing together since they were infants.

Gracie was born premature and immediately diagnosed with cerebral palsy, which impairs muscle movement. At six months she tested positive for cystic fibrosis, which affects her lung capacity and causes breathing disorders.

The physical setbacks never seemed to set Gracie back. A determined little girl, she decided at an early age that life was for living.

Therefore, Quincy and Gracie dance together, since they were infants.

The girls are daughters of Dominic and Christin Latkovski. Christin is a former University of Louisville cheerleader. Dominic performs as a professional sports mascot, known as BirdZerk, and co-owns the ZOOperstars, featuring ballooned costumes based on animals and sports figures.

According to Christin, Quincy got involved early in dance and gym classes as well as soccer. Gracie was always nearby cheering on her sister.

“We wanted to get Gracie involved,” Christin said. “We found the Miracle Dancers from the Diane Moore Dance Academy. Gracie started there. All of the dancers are special needs.”

The Miracle Dancers were involved with the WHAS Crusade for Children, performing on television during the annual event.

“The Crusade was a big deal to that group,” Christin said. “Quincy’s experience with Gracie helped her connect well and she helped the group.”

According to Christin, Gracie wanted to move forward and dance with Quincy. She even played baseball in a league for special needs players at Okolona Little League.

“Gracie truly doesn’t see her disability at all,” she said. “She’s like anybody else.”

With assistance from Miracle Dancers choreographer Jennifer Wood, Quincy and Gracie developed a duet routine they could perform on stage and in competitions.

“The girls together, they love to perform,” said Christin. “They make up dances all day long.”

The girls’ love for Princess movies while growing up led to the song selection of “Fly to your Heart,” about the Tinkerbell character.

“There was an amazing connection,” said Christin. “A princess coming to life, and believing in herself. Jennifer got them to express their lives together.”

The girls’ next routine, The Reflection Dance, would show the entire world what believing was all about, as well as the sisters’ special bond.

‘WILLING’

The Reflection Dance involves both girls dressed in ballet attire, both seated in wheelchairs, with a mirror between them.

The girls begin by copying one another through the mirror. From there Quincy rises from her chair, magically transfers herself through the mirror, and then dances in a way that Gracie envisions herself performing.

The song used during the performance is “Reflections,” from the Mulan movie, performed by Jackie Evoncho.

“(Mulan) was a young girl who had dreams and now she’s made it big,” Christin noted. “Quincy has a lot of input in the routine. Gracie just smiles and wants to dance.”

The reflection double entendre completed the performance.

The routine was perfected for competition through ongoing practice at Dance Unlimited in Mount Washington, under the tutelage of Melissa Herberger.

The girls were even invited to perform live on television during the 2013 Crusade for Children.

At JAMfest the girls earned top prize for the lyrical category. Christin reminded that the competition was not for special needs dancers.

“They’re in a normal category competing against other girls,” she said. “Along with the dancing, expression is involved in the judging as well.”

The girls earned medals for their performance, along with jackets adorned with JAMfest logos on the front and back.

“That was a big deal for Gracie,” Christin said. “She wears it every day to school.”

Through the magic of social media, video from JAMfest of the Latkovski Sisters’ performance went viral. The girls were featured on CNN Headline News, while the family heard and read comments from well-wishers worldwide.

“You just read the comments, they’re showing up everywhere,” Christin said. “They were on the Ellen DeGeneres Good News page. Different people everywhere, family members, they were all seeing them.”

The special performance obviously touched a nerve with anyone who witnessed the video. Christin reminded that moving the world was not the intention of her daughters.

“They just want to dance,” she said. “They love to dance together. They’re performers.”

‘ABLED’

The Latkovski SIsters both love Cedar Grove Elementary. Gracie is currently a fourth grader, while Quincy has moved on to sixth grade at Bernheim Middle.

Cedar Grove Special Education instructor Amanda Cook has worked with Gracie off and on since Kindergarten. Cook currently assists Gracie with reading skills, while instructor Kerry Lee helps with math.

“Gracie is treated like one of the kids,” said Cook. “In my classroom she’s always been with the same kids since Kindergarten. They giggle together and have fun. The other students don’t see her as anybody different.”

“She fits right in,” said Cedar Grove fourth grade instructor Amie Huckabee. “She gets along with everybody. We don’t see her as any different.”

Huckabee said said Gracie was “really funny” and mentioned her ability to speak once she overcame her shyness.

“Once she starts telling you a story…” said Huckabee. “She likes to talk about shopping. She told me a story that her Dad thinks he can really play basketball, but he can’t, and then she laughed.”

Cook said Gracie is usually more shy in a larger classroom setting.

“In a small group she’s hilarious,” Cook added.

“She doesn’t raise her hand a lot but when I call on her she always knows the answers,” Huckabee said.

Both instructors have children the same age as Gracie. The said having Gracie and other special needs children in school helps other kids look at them as normal students.

“(My son) doesn’t notice as much, but he is quick to help,” Huckabee said. “She’s just another kid to them.”

“They know they’re still the same kind of kids,” Cook added.

The teachers praised the Latkovski Family for always supporting the girls at both school and community events.

“Quincy is the most caring girl,” Huckabee said. “You could tell their love.”

The girls performed their routine during a Cedar Grove talent show.”

“I think all of us were crying,” Huckabee said. “They were both very sweet and caring.”

“It’s great to see Gracie do things that most can’t do,” Cook said.

REFLECTIONS

Christin praised Quincy for always supporting and loving Gracie throughout her life, always by her side no matter the situation.

“Since day one, Quincy would do everything that I would do,” she said. “She knew how to hold her and pick her up. They’re always together. The closeness of the two makes the dance so special. Not everyone knows what Quincy goes through.”

Today Gracie participates in her own ballet class, with regular dancers. Christin said she was placed in a separate group from Quincy to help her develop more independence.

“When Gracie is in ballet class she doesn’t really see her disability,” Christin said.

Even the sisters’ little brother, Rock, who is turning four, “goes with the flow” and understands enough to assist Gracie whenever he can.

“Just being around, he knows,” said Christin. “He’s always helpful. They love to play school.”

The Latkovski Family moved into a newly-built home five years ago, with Gracie in mind. The house was constructed in such a way to assist with her needs.

The house remains a happy home, with the family always reminded to focus on the positive, thanks to a girl who considers herself ‘abled’ rather than the alternative.

“We’ve all learned from her,” Christin said. “It helps to take the focus off of other troubles. She does so much despite her situation. Everyone has challenges. It’s how you deal with them. That’s the best thing about her.”

“I like to make people smile,” Gracie said.

To see the video of Quincy and Gracie’s award-winning dance at the JAMfest Super Nationals go to vimeo.com/86777959.