The Ryan Sisters are truly inspirational! OS&OT Alumni, they have used their occupational therapy expertise and passion for dance to develop Dance Ability Movement which provides inclusive dance programs for all children.
It is the dream of many young children to learn to dance, and children’s dance classes are immensely popular. However, children with disabilities often face barriers to participation in dance. This is why the work that the Ryan Sisters do through The Dance Ability Movement is truly inspirational. They use their passion for dance and their skills and knowledge as occupational therapists to develop safe, inclusive dance classes for children of all abilities. The Ryan sisters and The Dance Ability Movement were recently profiled by CTV Toronto.
Mallory and Jade have danced all of their lives and both shared the dream that they could combine their enthusiasm for dance with their chosen careers in occupational therapy (OT). They recognized the limited opportunities for children with different abilities to participate in dance classes in their home community so they formed Dance Ability, a dance program tailored for children of all abilities. The first class commenced in 2010 at a local studio in Milton, Ontario with a team of volunteers providing 1:1 support and assistance for a small group of children with various needs. With growing demands and recognition of their services, Mallory and Jade officially launched their own business, The Dance Ability Movement, with the goal of “sharing the opportunity to dance with dancers of all abilities on a large scale and continuing to promote inclusivity and participation in the community for people with different needs”. The program is currently active in six host studios in the Greater Toronto Area, and more studios are being considered. The Ryan Sisters have no difficulty in recruiting volunteers, many of whom are dancers themselves who wish to share their love of dance with young aspiring dancers.
Aside from providing opportunities to participate in dance classes, The Dance Ability Movement offers summer programs to address various OT goals. For example, Set the Stage Camp combines a handwriting program with music and dance to assist pre-school and primary age children to develop their school readiness and specific motor skills. Art Expressions Camp provides participants a safe space to explore dance styles as well as other art forms and means of self-expression.
Mallory and Jade are currently pursuing various goals and future initiatives including the following:
- Supporting schools in Toronto to include Dance Ability Movement dancers in their arts nights and talent shows, plus encouraging schools to offer more movement and dance opportunities for these students as part of their curriculum.
- Exploring the role of dance as more than just a leisure occupation, but as a potential vocation for some of the dancers with disabilities who participate in The Dance Ability Movement programs who have the talent and passion to pursue dance further.
- Providing more programming and support systems to keep youth with different needs engaged as active members in their communities.
They also feel honored to have been recently selected as “Agents of Change for Community Health” through the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto, and are currently pursuing various goals and future initiatives including the following:
- Aligning their model with existing OT models and theories to better advocate for community leisure programs and the importance of addressing the environment and societal perspectives to meet everyone’s needs
Mallory and Jade also maintain close ties with the MScOT program at University of Toronto by participating in various labs and delivering guest lectures to educate and inspire future generations of OTs. Through The Dance Ability Movement, Mallory and Jade are making important contributions towards creating community environments where inclusion of children with varying abilities is the norm. Their programs provide opportunities to enable children to express themselves through dance and other art forms, and to realize their potential.