She Helps Disabled Girls Become Little Ballerinas
Joann Ferrara, 50
Queens, New York
On an early October afternoon in a makeshift gym, a roomful of girls in tutus and tights watch themselves in the mirror and listen attentively as their teacher, "Miss Joann," conducts class. "Proud smiles," she calls out. "And up and down, up and down." First pliés, then arabesques, then jumps. "We are ballerinas," she tells them.
And they are, only with a difference. Joann Ferrara's 12 dance students, ages 3 to 9, spend most of their days in wheelchairs, walkers and braces, living with cerebral palsy, spina bifida and other conditions. Ferrara, a physical therapist who sees most of the girls as patients, started Dancing Dreams three years ago after then 4-year-old Veronica Siaba, who has cerebral palsy, told her how she longed to dance. "It started me thinking," Ferrara says. "Wouldn't it be nice to have a class?"
Now the girls rehearse every Thursday, learning routines to classical pieces (Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty) and pop numbers. A group of 14 teen volunteers from area high schools provide physical support, stabilizing the girls and helping them hold the positions. Every April they put on a recital—a three-part show at the Mary Louis Academy with elaborate backdrops and multiple costume changes. Ferrara herself sews as many as 70 costumes, specially designed to fit over back braces.
Parents are grateful for the effort. "There are many things your disabled child can't do," says Veronica's mom, Maria Siaba. "This lets them be regular girls." And the girls couldn't be prouder. "Last year I invited my friends," says Veronica, now 7. "I wanted them to see we can do stuff like everyone else." Which thrills Ferrara more than a grand jeté: "This is my dream come true."
Know a hero? Send suggestions to HEROESAMONGUS@PEOPLEMAG.COM. Please include your name, phone number and return e-mail address. For more information on Dancing Dreams, go to http://joannferrarapt.com/
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