This article is published through our Regional Reporter Program. We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts through the Digital Now initiative.
As dancers across Canada prepare to celebrate International Dance Day on April 29, employees at a private St. John’s law firm – yes, a law firm – are preparing to learn a special dance routine to observe the occasion.
Commemorated around the world since 1982, International Dance Day celebrates the universality of the art form and connects people from diverse communities through the common language of dance.
For the second year in a row, the staff at Benson Buffett PLC are putting on their dancing shoes to sponsor a fundraiser for the Newfoundland and Labrador chapter of Easter Seals, a non-profit organization that offers programs and services for disabled folks. Debbie Parsons, creator of the program Dansability, will be teaching the routine that the troupe of lawyers will have one hour to learn and perform.
Also the owner of the retail outlet Music Collection and Dance Corner in St. John’s and Mount Pearl, Parsons created Dansability for people of all ages and abilities to explore dance through free movement.
In 2018, she brought the Dansability idea to Easter Seals after a little boy with cerebral palsy came into her life and she saw how his mobility improved after she did some movement with him. She has since been volunteering to teach her classes at Easter Seals.
Ryan Quilty, who has tuberous sclerosis, has been taking Parsons’ classes for two years. His mother, Tracy Chafe, wrote in an email that the program is “a creative form of physical fitness for Ryan. It gets his heart up and helps with his balance. Dansability has removed the boundaries that exist in a typical dance class setting and allowed Ryan to participate, learn at his own pace and dance to his ability.”
Last year, Parsons wanted to find a way to celebrate International Dance Day, initially thinking that her own business might create an event. Then, it occurred to her to pitch the idea of a fun-filled fundraiser with third-party sponsors to Easter Seals. They agreed.
“International Dance Day is celebrated across the world, and we really wanted to spread the message that dance is for anyone, no matter your ability,” said Laura Douglas, fund and development co-ordinator at Easter Seals.
Benson Buffett PLC was the first firm to sign on. Coincidentally, last year when Parsons reached out to Olga McWilliam Benson, a lawyer and director with the firm, they were already considering projects to help community organizations as a way to commemorate their 40th year in business.
“The majority of the staff were involved. We had a really fun time,” McWilliam Benson noted. So, she said, when they were asked to participate again this year: “It was a foregone conclusion that we would participate for such a worthwhile cause. We had no difficulty getting people to agree to participate again.”
All funds raised from the Dance Day event directly support the 20 programs and services that Easter Seals offers. The event has picked up speed this year, with a five-fold increase in businesses signing up and now extending over two days.
On April 28, an open class for anyone of any level will be offered for a nominal fee. Then, on April 29, Parsons and one of her volunteer assistants, Leah Davis, will visit the locations of the corporate sponsors to teach their routine.
For McWilliam Benson, the idea of this simple dance event, that the staff loved, aligns with the firm’s goals.
“In law, we focus on people’s strengths and assign our cases internally that way. The way that Easter Seals maximizes and highlights the abilities of their people is certainly something that attracted us,” she said.
Parsons believes that the full impact of Dansability has yet to be realized.
“There are a lot of capabilities there, and there are a lot of abilities that are within all of us. From the first class, if there is a new participant, to the last class, you can see the improvement in their mobility. You can see their arms moving higher or faster. It’s pretty amazing,” she said.
It’s Parsons and her volunteers who may have learned the biggest lessons, though.
“We love the kids. They steal our hearts. We are learning how much is possible. When you have a bad day and you go to that Dansability class,” she said, “they are always smiling.”