April is Autism Awareness month, following closely on the heels of the favorite funky socks for Down’s Syndrome Day, March 21. So, now it is May…how do ensure including our friends with special learning and development needs way past just one or two times a year? Many great organizations provide resources and support, and now there is one more added to the mix– putting dance and dance education at the center.
In our post-Corona world, we know that we could do virtually anything, erm, well, VIRTUALLY! Artist House’s Dance Friends program works with Zoom to reach friends across the United States and even beyond, and maximizes opportunities for those who want to take dance classes. From the convenience of home or anywhere in the world, participating dancers of Dance Friends are paired buddy-style with volunteers and enjoy a 45-minute guided instruction of their choice of genre. Twice a month, the fun, freedom, and expression of dancing brings the paired buddies closer together, learning new steps and choreography.
Dance student Tehilla Keleman enjoys making up dances and learning about ballet positions and terminology. She likes class “because it helps me understand ballet and it makes me grow a lot. And I love it because it makes me really happy. I feel supported”, she said. Her mom, Chana, sees it as a wonderful opportunity for her to develop her natural love of dance.
Anyone wanting to sign up can find out more at artist-house.org/dancefriends. To take the class you’ve got to be over fourteen years old, though. While many resources exist for young kids, fewer one-on-one arts opportunities are available for teens, young adults and adults, especially those who feel that social groups aren’t for them. Here, there is no “aging-out” and the program is free! Families with special learning are already often paying more than they can afford for basic therapies, medication and nursing. So, Artist House offers the opportunities free of charge, all thanks to the INVALUABLE volunteers who make it happen. (It is important to note that the dance company does not claim to be administering licensed therapy, rather simply offering instruction in their professional skill.)
And what does it take? A lot of hard work and coordination. Administrative intern Tori Bulick has a big part in the process. “Dance Friends is important to me because I believe in making dance accessible to anyone. It is my goal to make students feel welcome and safe in a community.” They find the volunteers, get the word out to the participants, then arrange interviews, set up a sample class with guidelines and finally pair the dancers up. “Friends from all over can take classes, dance and create art together. I am grateful that we can create this platform for the community and make it easily accessible for all..” Tori added.
To volunteer as a teacher for Dance Friends, visit artist-house.org/dancefriendsvolunteers to apply.
Have friends on the spectrum or beyond? Let’s make it a true life of acceptance and inclusion! Let them know about Dance Friends and get their feet a-steppin’ towards fun and learning together.