When I’m done for the day at Gymtime teaching the Tiny Tot Fitness and Movement classes, I run off to tend to my other ‘job,’ a nonprofit dance organization, Born Dancing. The organization is dedicated to quality dance education for students with disabilities with the goal of reaching a population that is easily excluded from dance. Our program gives disabled children and teens the opportunity to produce full-scale dance performances in which they perform, design, stage manage and produce alongside professionals. The overarching goal is to facilitate employment opportunities in dance and theater production for those with disabilities, due tot they are disproportionately unemployed.
For years I have taught dance programs in NYC public schools through other organizations while producing original choreography. When I am not at Gymtime, I am spending every waking second putting together Born Dancing’s first collaborative production of its kind. On March 16, 17, and 18 the students will take the stage at the Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theater and will perform 11 dances of original choreography. There are 22 elementary age dancers from both general and special education, roughly 20 high school students with disabilities ranging from autism to psychosis who assist in everything from costume design to ushering, more than 20 professional dancers, one of whom is an amputee, and just 65 costumes to construct. (Yes, I thought I’d start off small….).
Born Dancing, Inc. is a 501(C)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit and if sleepless nights could cover our expenses, I’d be all set by now. If you are so inclined and would like to donate, I will do cartwheels in your honor. Please visit BornDancing.org. Our website will expand greatly in the weeks to come as we post video newsletters of our progress, which are also created by our students – of course.
About Melissa Van Wijk:
A professional dancer by trade, Melissa offers a depth of experience in both movement instruction and childhood development. Melissa is NYS certified to teach Dance, grades K through 12 and Theater, grades K through 12. She holds a Master’s degree in Dance Education from NYU, with a focus on Special Education, as well as a B.A. in Dance and a B.F.A. in Theatre from Hofstra University. She has also studied at Dansakademie Brabant in Holland. She has a wide range of experience teaching dance and movement to children, including with New York City Ballet and Young Audiences, programs that place artists in public school classrooms. She volunteered for years at Mt. Sinai Hospital, offering play therapy to patients in the pediatric intensive care unit. These days she volunteers at a nursing home and offers pet therapy with her Certified Therapy dog, Easter.