Helen Trougakos crouched in the front row of the audience. She snapped copious pictures on her iPhone of her four-year-old daughter Noreen as she danced on stage in a sparkling tutu and matching red feathered headpiece — and two leg braces. A tall, older girl dressed in black hoisted Noreen up by her waist and spun her around as Noreen beamed wildly.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Trougakos, who smiled as she watched her daughter dance. “It helps her feel like she’s normal.”
Noreen has Cerebral Palsy, a diagnosis she defies by participating in classes with Dancing Dreams, an organization that teaches ballet to physically challenged girls. Established by physical therapist Joann Ferrara, Dancing Dreams includes 43 budding ballerinas.
Ferrara, a former gymnast and dancer herself, began the program in 2008 when a young patient of hers wished she could be a dancer like her friends. From the back of her physical therapy practice, Ferrara began giving dance lessons.
“It’s a chance to be in a social environment and they have the ability to move in a fun way,” said Ferrara.
Each dancer has a designated high-school-aged “helper” to assist her, and classes are funded on a “pay-what-you-can” basis. Since many dancers come from low-income families, they participate on scholarships.
Trougakos believes that dancing not only provides a source of enjoyment for Noreen, but also benefits her physically.
“[Dancing has] helped her muscle tone increase at the same time she’s having fun,” said Trougakos. “I wish more people had [programs like Dancing Dreams].”
Each winter, the dancers and their families gather at the Selfhelp Clearview Senior Center for a holiday performance. Over 200 guests crowded the room on Thursday, December 15 as the 43 dancers sat stretched out on the floor surrounded by their helpers, awaiting their turn to perform.
“Let me see your big ballerina smiles!” said Ferrara as she ushered the first group.
Noreen, at center stage, lit up instantly.