By Jenny Higgins, JJ’s List Instructor and Dance Instructor
“Jump for Joy” is a dance program for young people with disabilities that takes place each spring at Dance Center Evanston in Evanston, IL. Jump for Joy (J4J) began 11 years ago as an outreach program of the Evanston Dance Ensemble. High school age dancers in this pre-professional company volunteer their time as 1:1 mentors to J4J participants.
Children and teens with disabilities who take J4J classes get the opportunity to enjoy movement and music, express themselves creatively, learn specific dance exercises, and bond with their mentors. Each dancer’s unique ability to move and enjoy music is celebrated.
One of the most important elements of Jump for Joy is the caring and sharing dance community. From class to class and year to year the J4J participants and their mentors develop meaningful and rewarding relationships. While participants learn about the joys of dance, their mentors learn about diversity from their differently abled friends. Everyone finds great value in these relationships. Parents and families of the participants also benefit from the dance community as they have time to share, support each other, and network.
Each session of Jump for Joy culminates with an informal performance in the Studio5 space at Dance Center Evanston. Friends and families are invited to watch the J4J students perform with their mentors. The mentors, who are dancers in the Evanston Dance Ensemble, also perform a few pieces from their current productions.
The performance also features some special guests – The Heartbreakers, from Misericordia, who join the celebration and share their dance skills. The Heartbreakers are a group of adults with disabilities who practice and perform regularly for special events. It’s incredibly moving and valuable for the younger J4J students and their families to see the Heartbreakers dance with such confidence, skill, and passion.
The Jump for Joy participants and their families have become a beloved and valued part of the Evanston Dance Ensemble community. Sharing a joy of movement and passion for dance enriches the lives of people of all abilities who are involved with Jump for Joy.
NEW! Everybody Dance, an adaptive dance class for movers with special needs is being offered on Mondays 4:30 – 5:30 for dancers ages 11 – 20.
Join Jenny for an hour of fun, movement, music, and self-expression each week. Through this class, dancers will grow by exploring creative movement and musicality in a relaxed, supportive studio environment. Click here to register!