Smiles and happy screams fill the room March 30 at the Darby’s Dancers class at Dance Revue in Ramsey as Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” comes on the sound system. It is the kids’ favorite song.
Kids of all abilities quickly rush the dance floor to show off their best twirls, whirls, jumps, spins and pirouettes. Students in the dance class jump as they enjoy the music like all other dancers, but this class is even more special.
The Darby’s Dancers class teaches kids with disabilities how to dance.
Darby’s Dancers is a national nonprofit founded by the parents of Darby Jones of Huntsville, Alabama, with the goal of bringing dance to kids of all abilities. Their daughter Darby, who was a dancer, was born with Down syndrome, a heart defect and leukemia. She died in 2013 at the age of 14. The organization was formed in her honor.
“The mission of Darby’s Dancers is to provide an environment for children with disabilities to feel equal and special,” said Dance Revue Owner Dawn Ruzynski.
Darby’s Dancers was brought to Dance Revue last September. The class has 20 kids of all ages who have various physical and mental disabilities such as Down syndrome, fetal alcohol syndrome and cerebral palsy as well as children who are on the autism spectrum. The class incorporates stretching, skipping, twirling, arm coordination and, of course, dancing.
“It’s nice for them to be able to explore, expand and learn in an environment that’s more accommodating for their disabilities,” Ruzynski said.
Ruzynski, Anoka Middle School for the Arts special education teacher Karen Larson and half a dozen Dance Revue student volunteers teach the class every Saturday morning at the studio. Each of the teachers helps guide or assist the students during class.
“Darby’s Dancers is just pure happiness and joy,” Larson said. “These kids look forward to coming here every week. It’s a place where they get to be happy, smile and enjoy some music ... It’s the best time of the week. They just get to be kids and have fun.”
The kids get to pick the songs they dance to. Some of their favorites are “Baby Shark” by Pinkfong, “Let It Go” from the Disney film “Frozen” and Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling!”
“It’s so much fun dancing,” student Lilly Carlson said.
“The kids are having so much fun and are having such a great time in the Darby’s Dancers class where they get to learn new skills,” said Lilly’s mom, Jennifer Carlson. “It means everything to my daughter to have this opportunity. She loves music, moving around and expressing herself, and to have this opportunity has been fantastic.”
The Darby’s Dancers class at Dance Revue is free to all kids who participate. Families from across the Twin Cities, and as far as St. Cloud, drive to Ramsey every week so their kids can take part in the class.
“Without Darby’s Dancers we wouldn’t have been able to have provided this opportunity for my daughter,” said Robert Bryant, whose daughter Sam is in the class. “She loves it, and it gets her out in the community.”
The program is funded through donations and fundraisers. The studio recently raised $500 during a pizza fundraiser, which will go toward making costumes for the kids. Currently, Dance Revue is selling Darby’s Dancers bracelets at the studio, and all proceeds go to support the program.
“It takes a village to put this program together,” Ruzynski said.
As the program grows, Dance Revue will add recitals and competition performances.
To learn more about Dance Revue’s Darby’s Dancers program, visit dancerevue.weebly.com or call 763-506-0353.
To learn more about the Darby’s Dancers organization, visit darbysdancers.com.