It all started in 2002 as a dream—the same dream that almost every little girl has.
The dream of little girls who see ballerinas and princesses in fairy tales and want to put on a tutu and a tiara—and dance. The dream of dancing continues in Southampton on Saturday, September 27 with “Dans’ing,” a very special dance and fundraising event sponsored by Dan’s Papers.
Joann Ferrara is a full-time pediatric physical therapist with a background in ballet. “I worked with many little girls, one of them had Cerebral Palsy, and I asked her one day, ‘What is your biggest dream?’” she says. “The answer she gave broke my heart—‘I want to be a dancer but no one wants me.’ So I grabbed a tiara and a tutu I had in a dress-up box, put it on her and showed her some movements she could do. She was overjoyed and I knew I was onto something special. There was no other program for girls like this. Despite their dreams, these girls were not able to dance like their friends, sisters, cousins or even their mothers. They had physical and medical challenges that prevented them from joining classes in their community.”
Dancing Dreams has grown from that one girl to more than 80 today, ranging in age from 3 to 17. Ferrara, who has 30 years of experience and a passion for dance, uses high school student volunteers and then designs and instructs dance classes for physically and medically challenged children to produce an annual spring performance that has become the highlight of their lives.
“Each child has their own volunteer helper and works according to their ability,” Ferrara stated. “For some of these girls, just moving an arm is a big deal. One of my sayings is that ‘every girl pliés in their own way.’”
Dancing Dreams became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in 2008 and relies on charitable contributions for funding. The program now has four age groups and about 85 members. Any child who is physically or medically challenged with a dream to dance is eligible to join.
“Dancing Dreams is based on abilities—not disabilities,” Ferrara emphasizes. “This allows each dancer to advance within her own limits and maximize her own potential. Dancers come from all over the tri-state region to participate. They travel to the Queens-based studio, where classes are held weekly and generally follow the public school schedule. “We teach them to move, spin, basic ballet steps, whatever they are able to do. Our volunteers make costumes with easy closures for them.”
Ferrara has no children of her own and juggles managing this program while working full-time as a therapist. She says she feels the greatest amount of pride when watching the faces of the parents as girls perform.
“I’m so busy on show day, but that’s what really gets to me. Seeing the parents, the families, the teens that help, when they see these girls dancing all dressed up on stage. It’s a moment they never thought would happen.”
These little Dreamers get around—they’ve been honored at Yankee Stadium and featured on the premiere episode of The Meredith Vieira Show on NBC September 8, when Vieira announced she has arranged for the girls to perform at Lincoln Center.
“That was a very exciting day,” Ferrara smiled. “Vieira has been a big supporter for years and arranged for the surprise Lincoln Center performance.”
Dancing Dreams has been featured on the Today Show, CBS Early Show, NBC and Fox News, as well as in The New York Times, Ladies Home Journal and People Magazine. An award-winning book about the program, titled Ballerina Dreams, was published in 2007.
Ferrara says of partnering with Dan’s for the event in Southampton—which is both an afternoon of instruction for participants of all ages by professional dancers in Latin, Hip-Hop and Swing, and then an evening dance—“We are aware of the reach of Dan’s Papers and hope that by partnering with them it will make more people aware of Dancing Dreams and our mission. A successful fundraiser will allow us to continue and expand our program so that more children with physical challenges will be able to experience the joy of dance.”
Dans’ing, the Dancing Dreams benefit event, is Sat., Sept. 27 at the Southampton Arts Center. From 2:30–4:30 p.m., dance instruction will be offered to participants of all ages in Latin, Hip-Hop and Swing. The cost is $25 per class; participants may take all three classes. At 7 p.m. the doors will open for a dance with live music. Admission to the dance is $25. Reservations are required for all classes and the evening dance event.
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