Photo Credit: darbysdancers.com
From day one, Darby Jones was dealt a hand in life that included more challenges than most people endure in a lifetime. Down syndrome, a heart defect, and leukemia made Jones develop a fighter mentality, but the one thing that always brought her joy in life and made her feel free was dance. Now, in her honor, Jones’s parents formed Darby’s Dancers, a nonprofit organization that gives children with special needs the opportunity to participate in performing arts through dance education.
Even though Jones was born with Down syndrome, a heart defect, and leukemia, she lived a life of bravery, perseverance, and optimism. In 2008, after battling leukemia for the third time, Jones began dancing in a class designed for children with special needs, and this class led to many more performance opportunities. Unfortunately, Jones lost her fight with leukemia in 2013, but her parents knew without a doubt that her greatest wish was to have children like herself have the opportunity to dance.
Darby’s Dancers is a 501©(3) organization founded by Jones's parents to carry on her legacy and to bring joy to as many children with special needs as possible. The organization’s mission is to provide dance education to children with special needs at no cost to their families and offer a foundation for inclusion with other dancers within an established dance organization. Darby’s Dancers classes are held once-a-week and dancers learn all types of dance in a fun, encouraging atmosphere. Dancers in the program gain confidence, coordination, strength, and lifelong friends.
In addition to providing dance classes, Darby’s Dancers also gives teens volunteer opportunities by providing one-on-one assistance to a dancer with special needs. Darby’s Dancers classes are taught by volunteer dance instructors and take place in donated studio spaces. Inspirations Dance Studio in New York is one of the latest studios to adopt Darby’s Dancers into its family beginning the week of August 26.
Photo Credit: Darby Jones (pictured) on @darbys_dancers on Instagram
“We have a very close-knit environment here; our girls have a very strong understanding of that. A lot of them are already excited for the Darby’s Dancers class. I think they will respond very well. I am looking most forward to showing them they have the same opportunities as every other kid and that they can achieve their goals just like any other children,” said Kayla Frankenberry, Inspirations Dance Studio Owner to The Journal .
One of the most beautiful things about Darby’s Dancers is the many different communities who have already come together to welcome this program into local dance studios. Charitable contributions of youth volunteers, dance instructors, community dance studios, and local businesses all allow Darby’s Dancers to provide dance classes, supplies, and costumes to dancers with special needs at no cost to their parents. Today, parents can find Darby’s Dancers in 25 states with more than 53 locations.
I'll always have a special place in my heart for organizations like Darby's Dancers. Sometimes, as fans of dance, we get too wrapped up in the competition dance shows on TV and truly forget the essence of this art form. Children of all abilities dancing together in the same studio is such a big step for inclusive dance. Let's all go follow @darbys_dancers on Instagram so we can help this program reach all 50 states!