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Vocational Dance Program Combines Creative Expression & Community Engagement


In the moments before “Can’t Stop the Feeling” starts to play through the speakers, the members of BHMA’s vocational dance program, SHINE, stand motionless, on the edge of movement. When the first notes of the song fill the room, the dancers suddenly come to life––swaying to the beat, following the steps of their choreography, and brimming with self-assurance. As they switch positions around the bright coral-colored Dance & Movement Studio, their gazes remain focused on the mirrors that span the width of the room. The seven dancers use their reflections to study the shape of their movements and observe how their parts connect to the larger piece. Instructor Mary Ann Holmes looks on approvingly as she surveys the progress the group has made in just a few short months. Under her direction, the vocational dance program began in earnest over the summer––giving students who have a passion and talent for movement an opportunity to pursue dance as a vocational path and to share it with the community. 

SHINE grew out of a desire to add movement to the growing list of vocational options offered as part of our LIVE Program, a long-term option for graduates of our two-year program. Drawing from her extensive experience as a choreographer and special needs educator, Holmes coaches students through rehearsals, performances, and everything in between. In addition to private lessons, the group meets three mornings a week to learn and practice choreography––exploring genres like modern, hip hop, and Broadway jazz, and working on songs that include “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” Holmes also mixes in key lessons about job and social skills each week. Though dance is a personal art form, it is rooted in core values like having a strong work ethic and working as a team. As a group they discuss the importance of showing up for work, identify strategies to de-stress, and set short-term and long-term goals. Holmes also demonstrates how to be a professional dancer as students practice greeting, interacting with, and receiving praise from audience members. LIVE member Josiah Alicea considers the work “pretty hard,” but embodies the spirit of the lessons, saying “I’ll still keep growing and keep trying.” 

SHINE is “a program designed with the foundation and benefits of movement arts.” For ten years Holmes has taught yoga, Dance Ensemble, and Zumba at BHMA, helping students to develop their spatial awareness, coordination, and body mechanics in an engaging way. Every other week SHINE brings the advantages of dance to the broader community­­––reflected in the program’s mission to inspire audiences to move along with the group. For many SHINE members, sharing their enthusiasm for movement is among the most rewarding parts of the program. After they perform their set at a local elder care community center, they invite the crowd to join their group movement segment. The dancers lead the audience through a sequence of exercises that aim to stimulate, stretch, and energize the mind and body together. “The response has been nothing less than amazing,” writes Holmes. As she explains, audiences are quickly captivated by the performers and eagerly join in––a testament to the power of movement. 

Each day Alicea, Tim Daniels, Ben Krifka, Andrea Leombruno, Paige Phillips, Heather Silva, and Carly Ziemba channel their passion for dance into a meaningful vocational opportunity centered around creative expression and community engagement. From rehearsals in the studio, to performances in the area, they use movement as a platform to grow their independence and showcase their abilities. Getting paid to dance and share the benefits of movement instills in SHINE members an “expanded sense of self and possibility,” asserts Holmes, who sees “them work against the stigma of limitation and excel in ways they didn’t know they were capable of.” She also credits the vocational dance program with highlighting the value of non-traditional work settings for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and educating “the public about the capacity these students have.” For Holmes, seeing how group members radiate joy when they move and how audiences have fully embraced the program and the dancers is simply “magical.”




48 Woodbridge Street

South Hadley, MA 01075

413-540-9720