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Accessible Dance Class Welcomes People of All Abilities


How do you make dance accessible to people of all abilities? DanceAbility, a local collaboration between the Tori Lynn Andreozzi Foundation and the Fred Astaire Dance Studio of Narragansett, seeks to answer that question.

One Saturday a month, the partnership hosts a complimentary wheelchair Ballroom dance class for people in the Rhode Island community. “DanceAbility is adaptable for everyone’s needs.” says Cathy Andreozzi of the Tori Lynn Andreozzi Foundation. “Whether you have a manual or power chair, propel yourself across the floor, use the assistance of a dance partner or that of a joystick.”

There’s also opportunity to be a part of a dance team. They currently have a competition team which performs in contests as well as local events, including a wheelchair dance performance at the recent Accessibility is Beautiful event hosted by R.A.M.P and the Steel Yard in Providence.

Cathy says her favorite part about DanceAbility is simply seeing the smiles across students’ faces as they dance. “Students enjoy camaraderie and the joy of a shared experience. There is something so magic about movement and music. Dance gives one a feeling of freedom. Scientific studies will speak to the release of endorphins and other activity it stimulates in the brain. My research conclusions come from the smiles of the participants.”

Origins of DanceAbility

When Cathy’s daughter, Tori, was young, she enjoyed taking dance classes, but eventually made the switch to Martial Arts. In this new sport, she earned State, National, and even World titles. “For us it was a family affair. It also had an intense schedule. Between classes, practice, and tournaments, we were always on the go.”

In February of 2003, Tori asked to return to dance. “Martial Arts almost became more a ‘job,’ dance was more fun. I promised my daughter we would find a way to return.”

Unfortunately, a month later, Tori was struck by a drunk driver in a hit-and-run, and suffered a traumatic brain injury. “Tori would never walk, talk, or eat again. What I didn’t know then, however, was that she would dance again.”

In the summer of 2016, Cathy Andreozzi arrived at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio for her weekly lesson. It was the first time she’d brought Tori along with her. During the lesson, she noticed something very rare and beautiful happening with Tori. Despite typically resting her head back against her wheelchair’s headrest, Tori had lifted her head straight up to watch her mother and dance instructor, Caleb, cascade across the floor for almost 30 minutes.

After this, Tori began taking accessible dance lessons with Caleb as well, eventually going on to participate in performances as well. Being Caleb’s first experience with a seated partner, he made lots of adjustments to learn how to best accommodate for inter-abled dances, and they have all achieved much growth throughout the years as they learn together.

“Tori changes when on the dance floor. Her posture lifts, her expression changes, and mostly when the cheers from the crowd increase so does the smile on her face.”

DanceAbility has grown from the mother-daughter duo to now hosting multiple wheelchair and able-bodied participants in partner and group classes and performances. They look forward to opening more accessible dance classes as demand increases.

“She is once again a competitor, I, a spectator, and when I’m lucky, her dance partner. A mother’s promise, kept.”

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