Mariann Main: ‘How to Dance’ documentary uplifting, insightful


Central Ohio hit two home runs last Friday evening. Both the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley and ABC World News Tonight with David Muir ended their broadcasts spotlighting Columbus.

The focus of the ABC World News Tonight segment and “Person of the Week” selection — a documentary — premiered Monday on HBO. “How to Dance in Ohio” is an ingenious title for addressing a mental health diagnosis impacting millions of Americans and their families.

This uplifting documentary focused on the social, psychological and everyday challenges of both young and older adults who have been diagnosed with Autism. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 25, and received accolades and awards. It was directed and produced by the acclaimed Alexandra Shiva, and was filmed on location just north of Columbus.

Dr. Emilio Amigo is a central Ohio psychologist specializing in autism and the impact this diagnosis has upon his clients and their families. He is the innovative mental health pioneer spotlighted in “How to Dance.” Amigo originated the ingenious concept of teaching these young adults essential social skills specific to the highly stressful right-of-passage known as “the Spring Dance.” Amigo’s clinical practice is just a few miles south of Delaware, at U.S. 23 South and I-270.

The documentary shadows three girls with autism — Caroline, Jessica and Marideth — as they reluctantly attend Amigo’s 12-week “social skills” class. The trio evolves from awkward, angst-filled girls to more graceful and confident “swans,” arriving at their long-anticipated April 2014 prom.

The documentary follows this challenging transformation, orchestrated by Amigo. From learning the appropriate body movements of dancing to the social nuances of approaching and asking a boy to dance, their progression is heartwarming.

The adventure also includes the tedious process of choosing dresses, make-up and hair styles — the girls accompanied by their mothers — in preparation for the magical night. The grand finale of the documentary is the trio’s entrance into the building to attend the red-carpet event, and the crowning of a queen and king.

“’How to Dance in Ohio’ is a story of the universal human need to grow, connect and belong as uniquely dramatized by individuals facing the deepest struggle toward social survival,” said reviewer Ethan Anderton on the Sundance Film Festival website.

Autism is the fastest growing diagnosed developmental disorder in the United States. One in 68 children can be classified within the “autism spectrum.”

An autism diagnosis occurs in one of 42 males. Boys are five times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with autism. A family with an autistic child will spend an average of $60,000 annually for a gamut of services specific to the diagnosis, according to the Autism Speaks website.

Similar to the diagnosis of cancer, most Americans now are either directly impacted or know someone who has a family member diagnosed on the autism spectrum. One of my neighbors in a subdivision of 36 homes has an adolescent with autism, which parallels the national statistic. He is rated “severe” on the autism scale — with minimal communication skills — and needs vigilant monitoring and medication.

Familiar shots in the film include scenic Route 315, and various retail locations on Sawmill Road and East Campus View Boulevard, near Amigo’s office.

“How to Dance” lacked a few details, such as the age each girl was diagnosed and how the families located Amigo. Also, an interview with Marideth’s sister could have added a unique perspective as to the impact of autism upon siblings. Yet overall, the documentary offers excellent insight and understanding of an autism diagnosis.

The second (and equally poignant) story of Friday, Oct. 23, which highlighted central Ohio, was on the CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley. The odds of this saga becoming reality are truly beyond belief but, magically, the unlikely wishes of an 11-year-old girl have produced a horseracing powerhouse.

A quick synopsis includes the pairing of this girl with a “runt” 2-year-old trotter she named MJB Got Faith. Add an unyielding positive attitude by his owner (the 11-year-old), and a $100,000 prize won last month at Scioto Downs, equals an unbeaten four-legged phenomenon and one very happy little girl.

This “On the Road with Steve Hartman” segment can be accessed via I continue to have dreams that someday she will work for Hartman. Yet, assisting Amigo would be equally rewarding, by helping his clients overcome the challenges of an autism diagnosis to become more self-sufficient and accomplished adults.

Mariann Main

Local Answers to Life’s Questions

Mariann Main is a Delaware native and journalism graduate of The Ohio State University. She has a master’s degree in counseling from Georgia State University, and is licensed as a counselor in both Ohio and Georgia. She can be reached at [email protected].

No posts to display