Expanding the Realm of Danceability in Buffalo

Over the years, we have covered a number of different dance groups, all of which specialize in their own forms, from tango to ballet. Until I heard about the group Danceability, I was not aware that there was a dance outfit dedicated to fulfilling the demands for special needs dancers.

I reached out to Krystal Testa at Danceability to learn more about the organization. Krystal, who has been an active volunteer with the group for 11 years, told me about a number of ways that Danceability is growing, including moving into a 5000 square foot building (2365 George Urban Boulevard – 2.5 times the current space), a third studio, new teachers, enhanced programming, and the build out of a new waiting room for dancers with sensory issues.

Danceability is an individualized dance, fitness, and movement program serving the special needs community.

Once I realized the extent that Danceability was growing, co-founder Robin Bishop was brought into the conversation. This is what Robin had to say:

Who started the program?

Myself and Christine Dwyer, 12 years ago. We are both Buffalo natives. I am a dancer and a licensed social worker and she is a dancer and a Kenmore special education teacher.

What is your role with the group – how and when did you get started?

I am now the Executive Director. When we first started, we were volunteers for the first 2 years, but the program grew so much that I eventually left my job at the time as an Artist in Residence at Children’s Hospital and became the program’s first and still only fulltime employee. I run the program, but I am also an instructor.

Is there any other program like it in the area?

There are other dance studios who both work with those with special needs and there are some mainstream dance studios that offer one or two classes for those with special needs. We separate ourselves from the rest by focusing on not only what happens in the dance studio; fun & therapeutically, but also by focusing on the caregivers’ well-being as well.

How does someone qualify as a dancer?

Technically, anyone can dance at danceability, but we specialize with those within the special needs community. We take children as young as 3 to adults, and no one ever ages out! We have boys, girls, men and women, ambulatory or non-ambulatory.

What are some of the special needs that you encounter?

Autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, seizure disorders, learning disabilities, mental illness, and many more….

Can you tell me more about the new waiting room for dancers with sensory issues?

One of the issues of our current studio is that when the waiting room is crowded, dancers who are waiting for their class can often get overstimulated and upset so they are forced to wait in their car or walk the sidewalk until class time. The new sensory space hopes to create peaceful place for them to wait through a variety of sensory things; swings, rocking chairs, and a few surprises.

Following are the plans for the new space:

What are some of the other features that you have that allow dancers with special needs to participate?

In addition to our dance program, we hold birthday parties at the studios (again for all ages) where dancers can host a birthday dance party with all their favorite music and friends and catered to them in a low key environment different from some popular party places that tend to be crowded and overwhelming to the special needs community. These can book booked by emailing or calling the studio.

Where do you receive funding?

Dancers do pay tuition also comparatively less than other studios. However, about 20% of our dancers receive scholarships from generous community donations (which we are always looking for). We also receive donations and hold fundraising events like our upcoming Halloween party, Comedy Night and annual golf tournament.

Do the dancers perform at other places in WNY?

In the past, we have performed at the Step Up for Down Syndrome walk, Hunter’s Day of Hope and a few other community events.

Are all dancers now accommodated?

Our new studio hopes to bring in the dancers that were on last years waiting list and we still have room to register more dancers. Registration is rolling until November, but register the sooner the better.

What’s next for Danceability?

Our Next Step Campaign and buildout of this new space is the biggest thing Danceability has EVER done! Once it is complete, I think we will take a breather, enjoy it for a while and keep providing a great service to our dancers. We are still looking for corporate sponsors to help us reach our $300,000.00 goal! Give us a call if you can help, or go to crowdrise.com.

Anything else?

Our show is always the Saturday before Mother’s Day. However, we are currently looking for a new handicapped accessible space that holds over 700 people for this year’s show. Please call 716-651-0094 if you can help.

Spotlight: Danceability

“Dream…the future belongs to those who believe in their dreams…” A quote that is displayed prominently in one dance studio in Western New York, and inspires the 160 dancers who make their way through the studio doors every week.

That quote is particularly special because it is the backstory of Danceability, a dance studio in WNY which caters to students of all special needs, and ranges from ages three through adult.

In 2007, Robin Bishop and Christine Dwyer, both with dance and human service backgrounds, acted on the dream of owning their own dance studio, to inspire and include dancers of all abilities to join, build friendships, and have a space to learn dance.

A small studio was formed, with an even smaller waiting room, and a partition separating offices. Before they were set to start registering dancers for class, the duo forgot to pay their electricity, and signed up dancers with a lantern, which they still keep to this day. Even with that snafu, the duo started with 60 dancers, 40 volunteers, and Robin and Christine as volunteer teachers.

Danceability offers a full season dance program that offers dance and movement classes. Rather than just tap or just ballet, each class is exposed to several genres of dance and depending on what their strengths or favorites are, that is how the performance piece is selected; and it’s often a different genre each year. Fitness classes are also offered throughout the year.

Danceability serves all special needs, and the organization does not define what the special need is. If someone wants to dance there, they will gladly accept that dancer. The instructors provide high quality teaching, and besides being trained in dance, the instructors are special education teachers, social workers, physical therapists, and dance therapists. The new studio is also designed create a comfortable and accessible environment with a variety of sensory props and teaching aides. A special element to Danceability is the one-on-one attention provided by volunteers in the classroom experience. Each dancer is paired with a volunteer, and that same volunteer joins them every week for class, from September through May, and the volunteer even performs with the dancer during the annual recital.

Many dancers have been a part of Danceability for many years, but one dancer in particular, alongside her family, has been part of Danceability since the first year of dance class in 2007.

Mary Wilde joined Danceability when she was just five years old, and as a current 17-year-old, her mother Cathy Wilde realizes the profound impact that Danceability has had on Mary.

“Just seeing her grow in the dance classroom has been really impressive,” said Cathy. “She is the one who counted off and started the dance-off in their last dance.”

Mary has taken a leadership role in the class and is always filled with joy to be in the studio every week with her friends. Mary has been dancing with the same five girls for her entire tenure at Danceability, and loves seeing her friends and learning tap, ballet, and hip hop.

“Mary loves Danceability more than anything in the entire world,” said Cathy. “There’s nothing she loves more than Danceability.”

Cathy was so inspired by Danceability’s mission and first recital, that her entire family became a part of the mission. Aside from Mary dancing in the recitals over the years, Cathy’s husband has been the stage manager for the recital starting in the second year. Cathy’s sons were stagehands, and Cathy and her family members also volunteer in class.

Cathy was also inspired since the very first recital. Cathy remembers a moment in the first recital when Robin and Christine were doing a teacher dance to the song “I Believe” and the entire audience started crying. Cathy was proud of the power in their performance, and realized that the duo made their dream of owning a special needs dance studio come to fruition.

Another powerful moment stuck with Cathy. During one of the recitals, one of the younger girls was set to perform in the recital, but did not want to dance. There were two girls in the class, and one of the girls remained on stage and performed the dance, while the other girl ran off the stage.

The stage manager and sound person knew that was only temporary. They knew they would be running that dance again, and both girls would dance it together. They knew they would make it work. The emcee called the little girl’s sister backstage to lift her spirits, and then the dancer came back to the stage, and performed the dance with her class.

“When she finished, everyone burst into applause,” said Cathy. “She threw up her arms with a huge smile on her face. Everyone went nuts, it was so sweet.”

Now in its 12th year, Robin is still inspired by her original cause.

“We have so much more ground to cover in the area of understanding the special needs community,” said Robin. “Each one of us is unique and that is no different for someone with special needs, but we need to take the time to understand their needs in order to make them successful and not define their success by our own personal standards.”

Between 2007 to present day, the success has nearly tripled. Robin, who holds the executive director title, realized that the organization needed a larger space to include even more desiring dancers. With that, a $300 thousand capital campaign began, and a new 5,000-square-foot space was purchased. Dancers, volunteers, and families, had their first week in their new studio this past week, were welcomed with three dance studios, a sensory waiting room, a community room, a costume room, and three times the amount of space they were used to.

The new goals the organization sets for itself continue to be achieved. The dancer registration is now at 160 dancers, over 100 volunteers, one full time staff member, two part-time staff members, and nine part-time paid dance teachers.

“I’m just so proud of this organization, I’m just so thrilled with their growth,” said Cathy. “To see the level of success that they achieved, I couldn’t be happier; they’re the best people in the world.”

Danceability is holding a grand opening party on Friday, November 16 from 6pm-8pm at their new studio at 2365 George Urban Blvd. in Cheektowaga. Danceability is still seeking classroom volunteers to work with the dancers one-on-one, as well as accepting donations for the capital campaign.

New Studio Completed!

New Studio Located at:
2367 George Urban Blvd
Depew NY 14043

Special Thanks to:
Ashwood Architectural, PC
The Wurlitzer Building-
908 Niagara Falls Boulevard