Dancing Dreams started as a dream…

The dream of little girls to put on a tutu and glitter—and dance just like other little girls their age. Despite their dreams, these girls were not able to dance like their friends, sisters, cousins and even their mothers. They had physical and medical challenges that prevented them from joining classes in their community.

Joann Ferrara, a pediatric physical therapist, was inspired to make the dancing dreams of children come true when one day a little girl with cerebral palsy in a tiara and tutu said simply, “I wish I could be a dancer but nobody wants me.”Dancing Dreams has grown from five girls to current 130 girls and boys. Classes are adapted so each child can participate to the best of his or her own unique ability. Our annual performance, complete with elaborate sets and numerous costume changes, is a highlight for our dancers and their families. We do not charge admission to this celebration of achievement. Weekly classes are held in three locations: Bayside (Queens), Upper East Side (Manhattan), and Plainview (Long Island).

 
Dancing Dreams is a 501 ( c) 3 nonprofit. We rely on charitable contributions to sustain our program.
 
Dancing Dreams has been featured on The Today Show, The Meredith Vieira Show, NBC, and ABC and in Ladies Home Journal, The New York Times, and People Magazine. Check out our Video and News Centre
 

Ballerina Dreams, a book about the program, was published in 2007 by Macmillian. It has been designated a notable book by the American Library Association. To purchase the book, click here

Dancer Testimonial’s 

                                                      
                                                                     
                                                                      The Ungraceful Dancers
 
When people think of dance, the first thing that comes to mind is a beautiful form of expression. In order to attain the status of being beautiful it requires an intense amount of athleticism and precision. When people hear the word graceful, they expect a perfectly toned muscular body that is completely thin and perfectly curvy at the same time. This is what most people expect when they hear the word graceful.
 
My name is Veronica Siaba and I have Cerebral Palsy (CP). CP is a physical disability that affects muscle tone and coordination. For me, this means I have super tight muscles and have to use a wheelchair for my mobility, and yet I was a dancer. I know that must be hard to believe so let me explain. I’ve had CP my whole life so I’ve always needed a wheelchair. For me this is normal but for the rest of the world it isn’t. That constant culture shock is something I’m always confronted with but it hits especially hard when you’re a child.
 
When you’re a child you get to play make believe and you can be anything you want; a superhero, a doctor, a wizard, etc. This is usually encouraged by the people around you, however, not so much when you’re a disabled child. I liked to dress up and be a dancer so I would wear a tiara and a tutu. Sometimes kids would come up and ask why. Kids are honest so I was honest and I said I wanted to be a dancer. If the kids didn’t say anything alluding to the fact that there was no way I could possibly be a dancer they would give me a look and walk away. Adults wouldn’t say anything but their silence was more than enough to understand that they didn’t think I could or should be a dancer either. 
 
When I wasn’t dressing up or playing pretend, I would still get weird looks and unnecessary comments. When I wasn’t getting them directly, I was overhearing them which makes its so much worse. I would hear things like “that just breaks my heart” or “that poor family”. The worst thing I’ve probably heard was “I could never be her mother”. At five years old I began to understand that outside of my family I am not only unworthy of being a dancer but that seeing my wheelchair, seeing me makes people sad and I am difficult to love. People viewed my body and life as things that nobody else wanted or could even tolerate. I was an example of what to be afraid of. This was only reinforced by being turned away from every single dance class my mom tried to sign me up for. That changed when I became a patient of Joann Ferrara, a pediatric physical therapist.
 
Most of her young patients affectionately call her Miss Joann. For a lot of children, myself included, physical therapy is not something enjoyable. Like eating vegetables, it was something grown-ups made us do. Miss Joann had a different approach, she let us have a say in our exercises, routines, and goals. Simply put, she made it fun. She let me wear my tiara and my tutu the entire session. Then she told me words that I had been wanting to hear for so long; “you look like a dancer”. I told Joann how badly I wished to be one but how it was impossible for me because nobody wanted me in their class. To my surprise, she walked out of the room and told my mom she was starting a dance program.
 
Not long after we had our first dance class there were five of us little girls in leotards and tutus. All of us had something else in common, we each had a physical disability. In this class perfect was just a seven-letter word. What others would find imprecise and awkward we found expressive and beautiful. In other places the sound of a wheelchair clicking, a walker rushing by or a crutch thumping would be disruptive. Here those sounds enhanced the sound of the music and made it more beautiful. Our devices were shown with pride. There was no need to worry about being “graceful” because we didn’t need to be. We could just be dancers. That feeling only increased when we had our first spring recital and we got to show our dance on stage. The class continued to grow and became what is now known as Dancing Dreams.
 
I was a dancer at Dancing Dreams through my senior year of high school in 2016, when I was 17. I was starting my first semester of college that fall. Now in 2022, at 23 years old I have graduated with my Bachelor of Science degree in Communications. Dancing Dreams is more than just a dance class, it’s a community, a place to feel safe and accepted. It is a place where you are loved exactly as you are, where your body is not a source of shame. Dancing Dreams showed me that there are people in the world that understand that happiness and perfection are not synonymous. It is because of Dancing Dreams that I know my worth. It is because of Dancing Dreams that I can appreciate my body and do not apologize for it. I’ve learned to create my own grace. It is because of Dancing Dreams that I am who I am today. Thank you Dancing Dreams, from all the ungraceful dancer’s past, present, and future.
 

What do they do in the class?

They dance! Each aspiring dancer has a Helper to assist the dancer during classes and performances. Over 180 teens are currently enrolled in our Leadership Program.

Each year culminates in our Annual Performance- our celebration of achievement.

Who can enroll and where are classes?

Any child who is physically or medically challenged with a dream to dance!

Dancing Dreams is based on abilities—not disabilities. This allows each dancer to advance within his or her own limits and maximize their own potential. Dancers come from all over the tristate region to participate in weekly classes at our Bayside (Queens), Upper East Side (Manhattan), and Plainview (Long Island) locations.

How much does it cost?

There is a voluntary contribution for classes to help cover the cost of the program. However, no child is ever turned away for an inability to pay. There is never a charge to join us at our annual performance.

Click here to view our videos and galleries

Board of Directors


Joann Ferrara, PT
Pediatric Physical Therapist,
Dancing Dreams Founder, Executive Director
 
Cathleen C. Trautwig, Esq.
 
Valerie Rowe, PhD
Ph.D., Clinical Professor, School of Education,
Fordham University (retired)

Patricia Hassett-Ribaudo
Partner, Wellington Sterling Consulting;
former chief-of-staff, Office of the Dean,
Columbia University,
Mailman School of Public Health
 
Judi Eichler

Aline Campos Camargo

Summer Delaney