Dance is a fun way for children to share their emotions and feelings through a nonverbal means. ‘A Chance To Dance’ program is inclusion at its best.
Mother creates dance program for kids with special needs where everyone has a chance to shine
Kim Smith’s daughter Reagan was diagnosed with both autism and sensory processing disorder at just 18 months old; but that hasn’t stopped the bubbly little girl from following her dreams. And so far, those dreams have included dancing her little heart out.
Mom couldn’t find any class that would admit her disabled daughter
Now 7 years old, Reagan happily attends a weekly dance class; but sadly, only a few short years ago, Smith couldn’t find any class that would admit her daughter, due to her disabilities.
Kim tells Heather Newman, for Babble:
“Between the ages of 5 and 6, I really struggled trying to find a class outside of therapies she attends where she could develop social skills with peers. The last place where she attended a special needs cheer program she would pretty much be left on the sidelines because ‘she required too much’ and they didn’t have enough volunteers although all the other children were matched with a volunteer.”
Smith, who has two older daughters as well, was understandably distraught over not being able to provide her youngest with a creative outlet.
“As a parent it was heartbreaking to feel like she didn’t fit in at a place that was exactly where she should have fit in,” she recalls. “I knew there had to be other parents that felt the same way.”
As it turned out, there was.
“I wish I had studio space where I could offer a dance class to children with special needs.”
The report continues: soon after, Smith fired off a simple Facebook status, lamenting: “I wish I had studio space where I could offer a dance class to children with special needs.”
Moments later, Smith’s dreams (and her daughter’s) would come true, when Donna Mitzel of Miss Donna’s School of Dance, saw the post and offered some space in her dance school. Just weeks later, A Chance to Dance was born — giving Reagan, and dozens of other kids just like her, a place to embrace their creative side.
Smith first kicked off the program in 2015, with just one class. But she has since expanded the program from one studio to multiple, and added variety of new classes into the mix. In total, the program now has 35 students and 14 volunteers who assist the young dancers, who are grateful to have a non-judgmental environment where they can interact, be themselves, and make friends.
“Even for our nonverbal kiddos it is amazing to watch them blossom,” Smith says, adding that students in each class learn a routine that’s performed at an end-of-year recital.
Experience has left a big impact on Kim and daughter Reagan
“It’s our goal to always have fun and to maintain a positive, reassuring, encouraging and loving environment,” Smith notes.
The experience has left a big impact not just on Smith, but on her daughter Reagan, as well.
“Reagan has friends now that invite her to birthday parties and last year we had our first ever Christmas celebration and she along with her friends had such a wonderful time,” says Smith. “This program is about so much more than dance … we are a family.”
It’s pretty clear that A Chance to Dance is more than just a dance class, giving its students a sense of purpose and an outlet for them to let loose and just be kids. And most heartwarming of all, it allows parents to see their children glow from the inside out — forgetting, if only for an hour, that they have any limitations.
It’s amazing to think that what once began as a simple Facebook status — and one mom’s silent prayer for her daughter — has grown into a thriving dance company that’s added something truly special into the lives of so many kids. Kim Smith and her daughter Reagan have clearly proven that with an open heart (and an open mind) dreams really do come true.
Read Heather Newman’s full story on A Chance To Dance here.
How to Include Multi-Disabled Children Into Activities
When you're planning activities for children, it can be challenging to find ways to include both multi-disabled children as well as those with regular abilities. With the right equipment and activities, you can ensure everyone feels included and participates while at the same time instill in children an understanding of the need for compassion and tolerance for differences.