These 10 dancers are about to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And us adults are in for quite a good time ourselves! In 48 hours, we will be in Los Angeles where these kids have been invited to perform at the Dizzy Feet Foundation’s annual National Dance Day Celebration Gala at The Music Center. These dancers from Project UP and Element Dance Company will share the bill with dancers from American Ballet Theatre, the stars of Dancing With The Stars and So You ThinkYou Can Dance, Complexions Contemporary Dance Company and professionals from every genre of dance.
In the audience will be a veritable who’s who in the entertainment and dance world – celebrities of every sort. I’m convinced that when the curtain falls Saturday night, July 27, the audience won’t be talking about the ballerinas or the professional ballroom dancers. They will be talking about the 10 kids in this picture and the dance piece, “Change the World.”
It was just about this time last year that I got the idea to stage this dance number and enlisted Hayley Henderson, Artistic Director of the Johnny Stallings Arts Program and owner of Element Dance Company to put it together. In the past year, this dance has been performed at Merrimack Hall’s Evening of Dance, at the NRG Dance Project in Atlanta, at the Alabama State Dance Championships (where it won First Place Overall and a platinum score) and at our annual spring recital. Each time it’s been performed, there has been a thunderous standing ovation and an audience with tears of joy in their eyes. What makes this piece so extraordinary and moving? It’s simple…”Change the World” uses dance to show that we are all more alike than we are different, that there’s no such thing as “different” and that people with special needs are only limited by the labels society chooses to assign them.
The kids are very excited – more like elated! Today, we sat in a circle and talked about what sorts of questions we might be asked while we are in LA and practiced what our answers to those questions should be. We want to be sure to thank the Dizzy Feet Foundation for this opportunity every time we can. We want to be sure to use people-first language. We want to be sure that we remember this opportunity is all about Project UP and kids with special needs, not about typical teenagers who are amazing dancers. Each teenager spoke from their heart when I posed questions to them like, “Why do you like to dance?,” “What does being in this dance mean to you?,” and “What do you hope people take away from your performance?”
Of course, Katie said she wants people to know she’s a star and Anna G. said she wants people to smile and be happy when they watch her dance. Claire said she hopes our performance will show people that kids with special needs can do anything they are given the chance to do and that she hopes our performance will inspire other organizations to include people with special needs in their programming. Melissa said she hopes our programs will jump to the national spotlight. Hayley said she hopes people will see that teaching dance to kids with special needs is no different than teaching dance to typical kids. Connor just said, “Bool-ya!”
While I want people to see how effective our program is and replicate it, what I also hope they see is that when you do something good for someone else, it comes back to you – in spades – every time. The five dancers from Element have donated their time – hours and hours of it – for years, helping kids with special needs participate in dance. They did this never expecting anything for themselves. And now, they are dancing in front of the most influential people in the dance business in one of the most storied and respected venues in the world – a dream come true for a young dancer! Who knows what opportunities this will bring to their careers as dancers and all because they were selfless enough to want to share their love of dance with kids who are routinely marginalized and left out?!
This is going to be a truly remarkable experience! I will be blogging daily so I hope you will follow along to read about our adventures!