Giving all kids a moment to shine 

By Caroline McKenzie

Kim Smith is a firm believer that learning takes place in and out of the classroom. "Honing new skills and interacting in an after-school setting are important parts of growing up," she explains. In 2015, her then five-year-old daughter, Reagan, who is on the autism spectrum, expressed an interest in dance, and Smith eagerly signed her up for a class at a local studio. (Research shows movement classes can be beneficial for those with autism.) But within a few short weeks it became apparent that the program didn't meet Reagan's needs. "I was heartbroken to see that she didn't ‘fit in,' " says Smith. "She benefits from one-on-one interaction; sadly, she was just not getting it there."

Kim Smith and Students
From Left: Cindy Shields, Kim Smith, Amy Ford, Fred (Nicole) Miller, Cameron Childers, and Scarlett McKibbin
| Credit: Robbie Caponetto; Hair and Makeup: Lorrie Hobler/Zenobia

Recognizing there were likely other families facing the same frustrations, Smith founded A Chance to Dance, an inclusive dance program tailored to children with sensory-processing issues in Matthews, North Carolina. The classes benefit from ample high school volunteers who provide that much-needed direct instruction and interactive mentorship, and they also take special measures, as needed, such as adjusting music volume, singing out steps, and modifying choreography that can make such a difference in the participants' experience. A Chance to Dance now offers three classes, as well as a junior novice competition team. "Watching their little personalities grow is nothing less than magic," Smith says. "When they get a step, their happiness fills the room. These children radiate joy from the tips of their fingers to the tips of their toes." What's more, A Chance to Dance has also forged a connection among the mothers and fathers whose children participate. "While the kids are in class, they can connect and share stories about life as a special needs parent. It's been a wonderful outlet for them," she says. This sense of community forged by something as unlikely as a dance class shows the power of stepping outside of the box for a greater cause.