FYI | Special-Needs Team’s Competition Dreams

What’s up in the dance community

Dance educator Kim Smith’s search for a dance program that could accommodate her autistic daughter came up short, so in 2015, she created her own. A Chance to Dance welcomes dancers of all abilities at North Carolina studio Miss Donna’s School of Dance; owner Donna Mitzel, Smith’s former teacher, donated space for classes.

A Chance to Dance, led by founder Kim Smith (right), was the first all special-needs team to compete at the Star Dance Alliance World Dance Championship held last summer in New Jersey.
Photo by Sarah Nelson Conklin

In 2016, Smith went a step further and started a competition team with 10 program students who showed promise despite challenges from cerebral palsy to tuberous sclerosis. They began learning tap choreography that fall. “We choreographed eight counts at a time, split them up with a volunteer, and did it slowly, over and over again, until they got it,” Smith says.

The plan was to compete at two regionals in the spring of 2017. But at the first, Smith says, the team earned an invitation—this competition’s Golden Ticket—to the World Dance Championship run through Star Dance Alliance, held last summer in New Jersey. “We were so excited, and then we said, ‘We’re not going; we can’t afford that.’ The parents have all kinds of medical bills.” But a parent from a competing studio funded the trip with a $10,000 donation, and they became the first all special-needs team to compete at this particular competition, winning a performance award.

The experience inspired Smith to create a children’s book last fall—A Chance to Dance: Singing in the Rain—and to field two competitive special-needs teams this spring. “I had tears all down my face,” Smith told Dance Studio Life of her dancers’ 2017 regionals debut. “It was like watching your biggest dream come true.”