Movement for everyone: Creating life-changing opportunities through dance

Dance like no one’s watching

women dancingThere’s something genuinely irresistible about dance.

Throwing on your favourite tune, moving your body to the beat and letting the rhythm pulsate through your body can be profoundly uplifting.

However, individuals with physical or cognitive disabilities may find it challenging at times to soak up the many benefits that research shows dancing can provide – such as more energy, boosted moods and stronger social connections. Enter Jade and Mallory Ryan from Dance Ability Movement, an Ontario-based organization aimed at helping people in Canada of all abilities enjoy everything the world of dance has to offer.

The two occupational therapists and lifelong dance enthusiasts recognized a need within the dance community for more inclusion, and have been making it their goal over the past decade to ensure as many people in Canada as possible are able to participate in dance-related programming – regardless of their background: “We offer inclusive dance classes for people of all abilities,” says Mallory Ryan. “When we started, we really believed that every person is unique, every child regardless of their ability is unique, and they all deserve equitable opportunities, and we all have the ability to dance.”

As lifelong dancers and professionally trained instructors, the Ryan sisters know better than most the amazing, uplifting impact that dance can have – which explains why they are committed to helping people overcome life challenges through dance and movement. “We thought dance is really something that everyone can do,” said Mallory.

“It’s about listening to music, letting yourself move however you feel, finding rhythms and connections, and you can really find new ways to move and express yourself even if you’re not able to speak or communicate in that way.”

performance crewA Dance Ability Movement class is an inspiring, energizing session for all in attendance. Through the help of a team of skilled dance instructors, supportive occupational therapists and committed volunteers, Mallory and Jade’s team is perfectly equipped to allow everyone that comes through their doors the chance to reap the benefits that getting active through dance and movement can provide.

“We’ve found that having this team approach is very important; the dance teacher focused on the lesson plan, the OT who’s focused on the participation, and then we have a broad team of volunteers,” Mallory said. “When kids with special needs become dancers, it allows them that sense of belonging to a whole new community, so we’ve seen a big shift as well, from a perception of seeing a child with special needs to a child who just loves to dance.”

It’s not only perceptions that the Ryan sisters are changing. The positive effects of their dedication and hard work are right in front of them. “For us, we notice that we leave the class feeling energized, lifted and full of gratitude, and we see that in our dancers, too,” said Mallory. “We’re really lucky. There are so many stories and examples of people benefitting in unique ways from participating in our programs. Dancers, instructors, parents and volunteers.”