A heartfelt partnership between Hofstra’s Dance Program and AHRC Nassau has allowed Hofstra students to explore the joy of dance with adults who have developmental disabilities. The students volunteer their time by choreographing and leading weekly, one-hour therapeutic workshops for the AHRC Nassau participants under the direction of Anita Feldman, director of the Dance Education Program at Hofstra.
To celebrate the end of the semester and 11 years of collaboration, the Dance and Dance Education Programs and AHRC Nassau and its sister organization Citizens Options Unlimited, Inc. hosted a performance and party on May 9 in the second-floor dance studio of Herbert Hall.
“On the dance floor there is equity between the Hofstra dancers and the AHRC participants – there are no labels,” said one of the lead instructors, Erin Doherty ’18. “Here we are all dancers. It’s just been an incredible experience.”
The lead instructors, all dance and dance education majors, also include Ariana Brisport ’18, Julian Donahue ’19 and Caitlin Johansen ‘19.
The program began with a “BrainDance Warm Up” to get everyone moving and limber. Then the Hofstra students and AHRC participants divided into groups to act out a “Collaboration of Ecosystems” with each set of dancers playing different creatures – butterflies, woodpeckers, elephants and deer – to appropriately styled music.
That performance was followed by a solo, “On the Way,” by Julian Donahue, choreographed by Professor Robbie Cook to George Gershwin’s “Prelude #2.”
The program provides the Hofstra dancers with valuable teaching experience and an opportunity to use their talents to serve the community.
In many cases, working with special needs adults has led students to change their career plans, said Professor Feldman, who founded the program.
“Many of them have ended up going into special education or dance/movement therapy,” Feldman said. “For others, it just reinvigorates their love of dance. Sometimes as dancers, we’re so busy working and trying to better ourselves, that we can almost lose sight of how much we love to dance and how wonderful it is to share that love with others.”
She said often the students who participate in the program never considered applying their talents this way.
“Many students would never have dreamed that they would be able to relate to people so different from themselves,” she said. “The people from AHRC are so warm and so loving. I think it’s changed these students whether they end up going into a new field or whether they can relate more comfortably to people with disabilities.”
Doherty will be taking a job at Disney after graduation, but said her experience at AHRC has inspired her to think long-term about a career in special education.
“This is a life changing program that I have been lucky enough to be a part of since my freshman year,” she said. “It gives us an opportunity to learn about things that are bigger than ourselves, and teaches us not be selfish as dancers. The other important thing about this program is the unity that it brings. These are such two diverse populations that you might not normally see together.”
The Hofstra University Department of Drama and Dance provides students with the opportunity to develop and hone their skills as performers, deepen their appreciation for the arts, and find careers in the theater and beyond. Last fall the Dance Program launched a BFA in Dance, which joined their existing offerings – a BA in Dance, and a BS in Education/Dance Education.
For more information, contact the Drama and Dance Department, 516-463-5444.