WHEN Chelsea Haag-Witherden's parents wanted her to learn to dance, they struggled to find a dancing school that would accept her.
At that time, the five year old had been diagnosed with autism and did not speak, communicating only with pictures and visual cues.
Dance, her parents learned, is often therapeutic for autistic children. It introduces them to physical contact, enables them to develop trust and reduces stress.
The Ferntree Gully family eventually found a Knox dance class that welcomed Chelsea, and seven years on, she is a girl transformed despite initially struggling to adapt.
"It was a completely different environment for her. There was the noise, people, but the teachers worked really well with her and to our surprise, she took part in the end of year concert within her first year there," her mother Wendy Haag said.
The 12 year old has now been dancing for more than half her life and has blossomed in that time. Chelsea communicates like any talkative young teen, and began secondary schooling this year.
"[Dance has] helped her development physically, emotionally, socially.
"She's more confident because it is something she is really good at," Ms Haag said.
Chelsea said she loved dancing to popular music like One Direction and The Collective, and recently performed a ballet routine to The Voice runner-up Rachael Leahcar's version of Over the Rainbow.
"Jazz and ballet are my strong points," Chelsea said. "Because they have good music to dance to."
She dreams of being a singer-dancer like her musical idols Justice Crew and Timomatic. "I like to get pretty funky sometimes and I like to push myself," she said.
"I get a bit nervous but then I feel the beat of music."
One of Chelsea's teachers for the past three years has been Samantha Curley, who recently opened a dance studio in Boronia with her family, after the studio the pair attended closed.
Ms Curley has an education degree and has worked in the disability sector for the past three years.
Ms Curley said autistic children danced in the same classes as everyone else and there were places available.
"You treat them like anyone else, you just have to understand they have bad and good days," she said.