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Pouches' Community Corner

Darby's Dancers is a dance program for dancers with special needs. There are currently 5 dance studios in 3 states who have Darby's Dancers programs. Inspire Dance in Fredericksburg is one of them. Read on to find out more about the program from Ashley Slemp, owner of Inspire Dance.

Share a bit about yourself.

I began dancing when I was 4 years old when the Junior Woman’s League in my hometown sponsored a dance teacher to come teach in the basement of a local business. It didn’t take long for me to know that dancing would always be a special part of my life.

I graduated from the College of Charleston with a BS in Accounting and Minor in Dance and was fortunate enough to dance with the Robert Ivey Ballet in residence at the College.

I began teaching when my husband was stationed in Okinawa. The Ballet instructor on base was going to be moving back to the US and my neighbors insisted that I take over the classes.

Why did you open a Darby’s Dancers chapter?

I have always believed that the Arts should be accessible to everyone. Everyone should have the opportunity to learn to play an instrument, paint a picture, sing on the stage, dance, or participate in another form of visual or performing arts. In a world of standardized testing, creativity has been pushed to the bottom of the priority list. Dance is one thing I can offer. I want to provide a fun outlet for these children that also gives them an experience that will build their confidence. I want to provide an encouraging environment where the children can move and create. When I read about the mission the Jones’ had, I had to be a part of it. Being able to offer this class has been a blessing. During our class, we give each dancer the opportunity to dance across the floor one at a time. This is my favorite part of the week. Each girl has a smile that extends beyond the walls of our studio when she takes her turn to glide, turn, or leap across the room. Those smiles melt my heart.

Darby Emma Jones (1999-2013) was born to Patrick and Valerie Jones of Huntsville, Alabama. Born with Down syndrome, a heart defect and leukemia, Darby lived a life full of passion, kindness, bravery, optimism, perseverance and loyalty. She never met a person she did not like. She saw no differences in people regardless of their age, race, appearance, or disability. Darby was an avid dancer, musician, reader and writer. She never had a bad day, despite her challenges.

It is the belief of Darby’s parents that it would be Darby’s greatest desire to have children like herself enjoy dancing like she did. Darby’s Dancers was created to carry on Darby’s beautiful legacy and to bring joy to as many children with special needs as possible. Darby’s infectious smile and twinkling eyes are shining down from Heaven as she spreads her seeds of love and joy to all our future stars!

How large is the organization?

Darby’s Dancers began in Minnesota. Valerie’s friend asked to start a dance class in Darby’s memory. Valerie wanted Darby’s spirit and love of dance to continue and this summer she decided to expand Darby’s Dancers nationwide. She traveled to Minnesota, Virginia, North Carolina, and New Jersey to begin new chapters. I was the third studio to join. There are now 5 chapters.

How do families come into contact with you?

Currently, most families hear about us through word of mouth.

What is the process for receiving aid from Darby’s Dancers?

We have an extensive application online. We want to know as much as we can about our dancers so that we can make the 45 minutes they spend with us each week as positive and fun as we can. Once we receive an application, we make sure we have a volunteer coach for the dancer and get them dancing as soon as we can. Download an application here.

What has been the response of the community regarding the program?

The families at Inspire have loved having this program become a part of our dance family. Dancer’s Wardrobe jumped in to sponsor us immediately by donating dancewear for our first 10 participants. We were thrilled at their enthusiasm for the program. In addition, Dancer’s Wardrobe also contacted Capezio on our behalf and the dancewear company ended up donating dancewear for an additional 10 dancers.

It has been heartwarming to see how people and businesses immediately want to help out.

When we began in October, we had more volunteer coaches than we had dancers. The coaches who had not yet been paired with a dancer, continued to come to help out in the class. We have a great little community and look forward to growing in the years to come.

How many families have you helped?

We currently have 6 dancers in our class.

Tell us how volunteers can get involved.

We need adult and teenage volunteers. Adults are needed to help plan events and fundraisers. We have been so fortunate to have received so many donations that we have not even begun fundraising. Funds raised will go toward purchasing dancewear (leotards, tights, & shoes) for each of the participants. We will also use funding to purchase costumes for the dancers to wear in the annual recital in June. We hope to raise enough money to have at least 3 parties per dance year for our dancers and volunteers. Anyone interested in helping to plan and execute fundraisers or plan parties for our dancers can contact the studio to let us know.

Our teen volunteers serve as coaches to the dancers. Each dancer has a personal coach. Coaches come to every class and help the dancer with all the steps taught. Anyone interested in becoming a coach can download an application here
and bring it into the studio, send it in the mail, or email it to the studio.

How can local businesses get involved today?

We would love to see more local businesses become involved. A business can sponsor a dancer for $300 for the dance year. Businesses could also sponsor a party for the class.

Where do you see the program in the next 5 years? 10 years?

It is my hope that we can offer several different class times throughout the week for Darby’s Dancers. I would like to see our dancers have a group that could perform at various local events in Fredericksburg. I believe watching the joy in the faces of these children as they dance should be shared with entire community.

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