Dance Your Dreams! is offered four times each week following the academic calendar. Class size is 10-15 children per class, with each child paired one-to-one with a trained teenage volunteer. Three of the classes are co-ed and one is designed just for boys. Children in Dance Your Dreams! have a variety of diagnoses, including Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, spina bifida and others. The total enrollment for Dance Your Dreams! for the 2013-2014 year was 43.
Merrimack Hall provides Dance Your Dreams! free of charge to its students, including all dance attire for weekly class and costumes for frequent performance opportunities. 52% of parents report they would not be able to participate if there were any fees attached to the program, as they live with staggering out-of-pocket medical expenses and other situations that pose a financial hardship.
Dance Your Dreams! students are featured in an annual holiday production, a spring concert, Merrimack Hall’s Evening of Dance and other events around the community. These performances offer most of our students their only opportunity to earn a trophy, to be acknowledged by an audience and to receive recognition for their achievements.
We witness remarkable progress in our student’s social, emotional and physical development on a weekly basis. Students who’s parents thought might never walk have taken their first unassisted steps in our dance studio; students who experience discomfort with sensory stimulation are singing and dancing in front of audiences; students who are routinely marginalized and left out of mainstream after-school activities are included in a group activity that improves their self-esteem and confidence. Parents who are often deprived of the opportunity to celebrate their child’s accomplishments bask in the pride of seeing their children reach personal milestones. In the words of one parent, “This dance class is actually therapy in disguise.”
Dance Your Dreams!’s amazing volunteers are equally impacted positively by their participation. According to one volunteer, “Being a part of Dance Your Dreams! has changed my life. I will never complain about anything again since I’ve watched children live with problems I will never have to face.” Volunteers are asked to commit to one semester at a time but 87% of all volunteers complete both semesters each year. 74% of our volunteers serve Dance Your Dreams! for more than one year. To date, 15 volunteers have graduated high school and started college with an intended major of physical therapy, special education or music therapy because of their involvement with Dance Your Dreams!