By Howard Koplowitz
With the state’s first lady sitting in the front row, a group of 30 physically disabled girls took to a Jamaica Estates stage Sunday afternoon to realize their dreams of becoming ballerinas during a recital organized by a Bayside nonprofit.
First Lady Michelle Paige Paterson praised the girls and the 30 volunteers who helped them with their performances in the Mary Louis Academy auditorium.
“What you’re doing is a real service to people,” she said, referring to the nonprofit started in 2002 by physical therapist Joanne Ferrara.
Established in Bayside, Dancing Dreams helps physically disabled children participate in dance through therapeutic movements.
Paterson presented the organization with a certificate of recognition before the dancing started.
The 30 girls performed 14 numbers and went through a variety of costume changes, ranging from pink poodle skirts for “At the Hop” to blue tutus and shiny gold pomâˆ’poms for “Dance! Dance! Dance!”
Whitestone resident Jonathan Nuwesra, whose 4âˆ’yearâˆ’old daughter, Sydney, was born with a club foot, said he has seen her personality blossom since she enrolled in the program about a year ago.
“It’s a good opportunity for her and the other girls to be able to experience dance and to be able to celebrate their achievement in a way that makes it as normal and fun as it can be,” he said. “She tends to be shy and this makes her less shy. It’s helping her to open up more and take chances.”
Elyse Nuwesra, Sydney’s mother, said her daughter beamed during a recent trip to a bookstore when Sydney noticed a book on dancing.
“She was so excited,” she said. “She said, ‘Oh, it looks like me! I’m a ballerina!’”
Elizabeth Hemmerdinger, a member of Dancing Dreams’ board of directors and the wife of MTA Chairman Dale Hemmerdinger, said she encouraged Ferrara to start the nonprofit after seeing Ferrara on television.
Hemmerdinger said her two granddaughters, who were born premature, inspired her to help start Dancing Dreams.
“I was so unbelievably grateful for their intactness that I made a promise to the universe that I would help other children,” she said.
Hemmerdinger said she was proud of the girls.
“It’s a 12âˆ’hanky day,” she said. “It brings tears of joy that they feel they’ve accomplished so much.”
State Sen. Frank Padavan (Râˆ’Bellerose), who helped secure state funding for Dancing Dreams, watched the Sunday performance at the Jamaica Estates school.
“These kids have an opportunity to see what they might otherwise not have the capacity to do,” he said. “It allows them to raise their mobility, but mostly they get a smile from ear to ear.”
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by eâˆ’mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718âˆ’229âˆ’0300, Ext. 173.