Kids With Disabilities Are Getting To Dance Like Never Before

"Everyone can — and should — have the chance to dance."

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Dance is a powerful form of expression that can be used to communicate who you are, and how you feel. The amazing people at the National Dance Institute (NDI) know this better than most, and believe everyone, of all abilities, should have the opportunity to dance. That's why they created the DREAM Project or Dancers Realize Excellence through Arts and Movement, a semi-annual week-long inclusive dance program for children who are differently-abled.

Each child who goes to DREAM gets partnered with a neuro-typical peer who helps them get the most out of the program through teamwork. At the end of the five days, all the kids get to put on a performance to celebrate their hard work and achievements.

We got to sit down and talk with three partners to see how DREAM has impacted their lives.

Allan and his partner Ruby

"Allan has a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)," writes Agnes McConlogue Ferro, the co-creator of DREAM. "He has great difficulty communicating. He has something called echolalia, which means he repeats what he just heard. We found that he is also able to repeat what he sees…especially for dance! His partner Ruby is a naturally sunny and bright personality. Allan has really responded to her and he has been dancing and participating throughout the class without needing any adult prompting. This is a huge success!"

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Alan: "I like dancing, because, it makes me feel happy." 

Alan's Mom: "He's so happy every single day, and I ask him 'Do you like it' and he says 'Yes, I'm so happy!' Every day he comes home really excited, and happy. Last year, he was less comfortable. This year he is more comfortable, and he likes being with his partners."

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Ruby: "I love dancing, and I love learning and so this is a great experience to learn and to dance at the same time and to meet Alan."

Avery and her partner Anisha

"Avery is diagnosed with a rare condition known as Nemaline Myopathy." writes Ferro. "Six weeks ago, she required surgery to stabilize her back. Her rehabilitation goal was that she would be able to participate in DREAM. This is her second time participating in DREAM and in six months she has absolutely blossomed. She loves being part of this program and loves to Dance. Anisha [has been a great partner] with Avery. [They] will talk about choreography and each will have their own suggestion, but they all embrace the final decision. They are true partners."

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Avery: "My first time doing this program was in August last year. It helps me with moving and it makes me happy. I've made good friends."

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Anisha: "This is my first time doing DREAM. I think it's really really fun, and I also think people should get a chance to do it. It makes you appreciate things more in that it helps you figure out different ways to adjust the choreography so that everybody can do it."

Morgan and her partner Ana

"This duo is unlike any other," writes Ferro. "They adore each other. Ana has such a natural and great ability to interact with Morgan. She 'gets' her. She thinks that Morgan is hilarious because Morgan is! She is diagnosed with blindness and is an incredible dancer. She loves music, loves her partners and is not shy to take center stage and count people in. Their partnership is so beautiful to see."

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Morgan: "I've been doing the program for three years. Dance makes me feel good. Dance has helped me move my body."

Morgan's Dad: "Her body is very stiff but since she started dancing now she's learning how to move her arms and legs. Because everything is visual, so for her, it's a little hard. We have to work with her, my hands on her body to physically teach her how to move her arms and her shoulders."

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Ana: "This is my third time doing this program, so it's been a year and a half. It means so much to me this program. I enjoy it so much, I enjoy hanging out with these amazing children. It's a truly incredible experience and I bond so much with the kids, and I couldn't have asked for anything better than this program ... I started here at NDI, I just really wanted to dance with [these kids], but I'm not going to continue dancing, I just want to focus on them and go into physical therapy."

Veronica and her partner Jonathon

"Veronica is diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, classified as Athetosis," writes Ferro. "This means that she has great difficulty controlling her movements. For instance, in order to have greater control of her head, she needs to have her feet and arms stabilized. She needs that control of her head because that's how she drives her chair! There are little switches in her headrest that allow her to move the chair in the direction that she needs. It's incredibly difficult and she is incredibly smart. 

Although nonverbal, she is able to use eye gaze to communicate with her partners. They ask a question and give her response choices with their hands and she will use eye gaze to look at the hand that is her answer. Her partner Jonathon gets that and was communicating with her immediately. She thinks he is hilarious and he thinks she is amazing. He has come up with his own ways to incorporate the choreography."

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Veronica's Sister: "She's more confident in getting to know new people since she started this program."

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Jonathon:  "This is my fourth time doing this program. I feel like it's a great opportunity for me to dance and also to dance with people who might not have the ability to dance, but we make it work for them so they can have fun as well."


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