Making a Difference: Special needs dance teachers focus on abilities

Feb 17, 2016

Throughout February WNED|WBFO is recognizing everyday citizens of Western New York who are doing amazing things in their communities. Our “Making a Difference” project emphasizes the importance of volunteerism and encourages others to lend a helping hand. Here is the story of a community champion who is making a difference.


Christine Dwyer and Robin Bishop
Credit WNED/WBFO Making a Difference

“Hi Sophia, come on in. We’re doing our obstacle course.”

A young dancer is greeted at the door of Danceability, a Cheektowaga dance school that may seem like any other, but there is one major difference, the school teaches dance to people with special needs. 

“They’ve been told that they are not able to or that’s not for you,” says Christine Dwyer. “They come through this door and they realize that, I can do it, and when they do, they are so impressed with themselves and so excited and, you know, the joy that comes out of them is so genuine, and that’s, that’s just so amazing to see.”

Dancers and volunteers mix it up at Danceability
Credit WNED/WBFO Making a Difference

Dwyer founded the school, along with Robin Bishop. 

“It doesn’t matter if you’re the most technically superior dancer, everyone can dance,” says  Bishop. “And it’s fun and you can be successful at it and it can bring you so much joy.”

Bishop says the pair used their combined experience in dance, special education and social work to design dance programs that break down barriers to allow each student to reach their potential.

A young dancer at Danceability
Credit WNED/WBFO Making a Difference

“Let’s figure out what makes these kids and adults shine… Everyone categorizes them by their disabilities, let’s find their abilities,” says Bishop.

The duo has a full slate of students. Dwyer says each one partners with a volunteer so everyone gets individual attention.

“We actually have 90-plus volunteers from all walks of life,” says Dwyer. “We have high school students through retirees that come in and just want to give of their time, and all we ask is that you come in with a smile and patience.”

Dancers and volunteers on stage at Danceability's recital
Credit WNED/WBFO Making a Difference

Like any other studio, Danceability puts on a recital once a year where dancers take to the stage. Sandy Carroccia’s daughter, Elena, has been a part of the program for several years.

‘They’ve opened up a whole new world for them,” says Carroccia as she talks about how Dwyer and Bishop have helped her daughter and other students. “They’ve given them experiences. They’ve given them courage.  They’ve given them confidence.”

“Yeah,” says her daughter Elena.

“And, and the, the killer is, every single one of them has risen to that,” notes Carroccia. “Christine and, and Robin, they are the voice for these kids, and they, and here’s the important part. They’ve given them a voice.”

Christine Dwyer teaches dance to special needs students
Credit WNED/WBFO Making a Difference

The program, Dwyer says, connects the dancers and families involved, as well as the volunteers and staff of Danceability in so many ways.

“Coming here, the minute you walk through that door, you see the genuine smile on their face and how much they want to be here and how important it is,” says Christine.

For both, Dwyer and Bishop, it’s about making a difference.

Robin Bishop works with special needs students at Danceability
Credit WNED/WBFO Making a Difference

“I just think if you have a skill that you’re good at and that you have a niche for, you can use it to give back,” says Bishop. “Why, why wouldn’t you?

Listen to WBFO throughout February for more stories of people who are Making a Difference in Western New York.

You can find out more online at wned.org/makingadifference.