Inside a small Boyle Heights dance studio, a group sits in repose under the watchful eyes of a yoga teacher. What some might view as a simple exercise class has instead turned into a bastion of hope and support for local cancer survivors.

“Survivorship begins at diagnosis,” said Kimiko Yamada, assistant professor of physical therapy at USC, who teaches the weekly class at the Wellness Center.

Adelante, loosely translated from Spanish as “moving forward,” is a program that serves as part of a community-based initiative at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center; it recognizes that cancer treatment goes beyond the doctor’s office. A holistic approach at the classes takes the emotional and psychosocial needs of survivors into account.

“There was a clear gap of resources for cancer survivors in our local neighborhoods” said Zul Surani, director of community partnerships for the Health Sciences Campus under Civic Engagement.

“We went to the Tower Cancer Research Foundation, which wholeheartedly supported this innovative initiative to bring comprehensive services for survivors to neighborhoods surrounding USC’s Health Sciences Campus,” he said.

Small victories

Class participants can bring one friend or family member for support. Elaine “Kitty” Galisky, is an 80-something survivor of breast cancer who attends every class with her son, also a cancer survivor.

“I find it helps me get back some of my movement,” said Galisky, who prefers to walk instead of using a wheelchair.

Such small victories are the result of exercises such as tai chi and stretching to improve flexibility and relieve pain. Yamada’s physical therapy students monitor participants to ensure that each exercise is performed safely and correctly.

According to Yamada, it’s important to let survivors know that there are multiple ways to exercise. When the exercises are performed as a group, class participants find motivation.

Nhi Dang, one of Yamada’s physical therapy students, said, “They see other people around them, and they see them doing that [an exercise] and they say ‘I want to do that too.’ ”

For Dang, the best part of her experience has been “seeing participants go from not believing they can do it, to being able to. It’s nice to see.”

Classes are free and open to the community of cancer survivors and their friends or family. They are held every Friday from 1 to 2 p.m. at the Wellness Center Dance Studio. Spanish translation is available. For more information, or to register, email Yamada at or call (323) 442-7805. Drop-ins are also welcome.

— By Melisa Acoba