RIVERTON — The music starts and everybody starts to move.
Some are Riverton High School students who are members of their high school's dance company, cheer squad and drill team who have been developing their talent since they were toddlers.
Others are students at Kauri Sue Hamilton School, which serves Jordan School District students with significant, multiple disabilities.
As Meghan Trainor's "Better When I'm Dancin'" plays in the background, toes tap, heads nod and pompoms swish through the air to the rhythm of the music.
Yes, there's a routine to follow, but no one is worried about performing it with spot-on precision, said Riverton High School senior Gentry Rose, a member of the school's dance company.
"We're not worried about what it looks like. We're worrying about how good they're feeling and how good we feel about it," Gentry said.
"You look around and nobody's frowning," she said.
Later this week, the combined group will perform at halftime of Riverton High School's varsity football game against Pleasant Grove High School.
Rita Bouillon, Kauri Sue Hamilton School principal, credits Riverton High's football coach Jody Morgan for the schools' partnership.
Morgan, who has a special education teaching background, expressed interest in Kauri Sue Hamilton School "being part of the football game and it grew into this, being part of the halftime show," Bouillon said.
For students of her school, the experience of being included in a larger group of students is a joy in and of itself, she said.
"Our kids don't get that opportunity often enough. Riverton High is the best. They include us in many ways. This will be the first time our kids will be coming to them," she said.
Among the students taking part in the halftime program, "there's only just a couple who can talk, so our kids tend to communicate in other ways."
On Tuesday, it was ear-to-ear smiles, excited waving of hands and bobbing to the beat of the music.
"You can tell by watching them, just the delight on their faces. Our kids can have a really hard time paying attention, following directions and sitting in a group. But I'm just enthralled by our kids sitting so nicely in the group and following every direction the dance instructor is giving. They're imitating all the actions and following along. You can see the smiles on all their faces," she said.
Before practicing the routine the group will perform Thursday night, all took part in the "animal game," going around in a circle mimicking the sounds and movements of animals such as elephants, alligators and even an octopus.
"Let's do it like a big octopus," said Brynn Perkins, Riverton dance company director, wildly waving her arms.
Tuesday was the combined group's third practice. More than 80 Riverton High students are taking part in the experience. Perkins said she hopes that "they will walk away with this being their most rewarding experience this year."
Collaborating with Kauri Sue Hamilton students has given Riverton High students "a lot of perspective when they're working with kids with disabilities, especially on a severe scale.
"I think it makes them appreciate dance and the happiness it brings to all lives. As I teach my students all the time, anyone can dance. Dance can be a part of anyone's life. I think having them come and witness the effect that dance and movement can have on kids, that's been humbling and really amazing."
For Mikayla Milligan, a Riverton High senior and dance company member, the experience has been fun and instructive.1 comment on this story
"I can't stop smiling the whole time. My face always hurts when I walk out the door. It's amazing. I love all the kids. They're incredible. I feel like just being around them, I'm super lucky to be around them because I feel like they rub off a little bit on me when I'm here," she said.
Mikayla said Kauri Sue Hamilton students have taught her valuable lessons, too.
"Just to be happy with your circumstances and to be happy with who you are," she said.
As Friday's performance approaches, Mikayla said excitement for all participants grows.
"They're going to do great," she said.