A group of charismatic kids and teens living with disabilities who are part of a Bayside dance group are the focus of a moving new documentary.
Local nonprofit Dancing Dreams takes center stage in “Perfectly Normal for Me,” a film that delves into the lives of four young dancers. The Bayside-based dance organization’s mission is to help children and teens with physical or medical disabilities reach their fullest potential by offering an inclusive and creative environment.
Directed by award-winning filmmaker Catherine Tambini, the film delves into the lives of dancers Alexandria, Jake, Caitlin and Veronica. Each child lives with a physical disability and participates in the organization’s dance program.
“I just want to be a normal kid. That’s my lifetime goal,” said Jake Ehrlich, age 8, during the film.
Viewers get an intimate look into the lives of each child and their family, who deal with their own unique, everyday challenges while advancing toward a common goal and the film’s final scene: the annual Dancing Dreams showcase.
Veronica Siaba, 15, who Tambini called “wise way beyond her years,” speaks in the film about her relationship with her friend, Becky. Initially, Becky was nervous to approach her, Siaba explains, but the pair are now inseparable.
“We became best friends and it meant a lot, because it shows that she saw, she got to know me, and that she understood that my life is not the same as hers, but it’s perfectly normal for me,” Siaba said.
Viewers get a particularly intimate look into the life of Alexandria Vega, her fraternal twin sister Maya, and her parents. Alexandria was born prematurely and has cerebral palsy. The film opens with the family waking up on Three Kings’ Day to open presents.
Caitlin McConnell, who is also a twin, is “really comfortable with who she is,” Tambini noted. The outspoken 12-year-old is shown in the film fearlessly navigating a ski run. Her sister, Allison, is also a volunteer with Dancing Dreams.
“She’s not as delicate as you think she is,” Caitlin’s father Steve told a Dancing Dreams volunteer.
Tambini was first approached by the film’s producer, Elizabeth Hemmerdinger, about the organization. The duo decided to create a documentary and began filming in the fall of 2014. It was the director’s first time getting to know the town of Bayside.
“I found a really warm and welcoming community there,” Tambini said. “The kids come from everywhere [to Dancing Dreams]. Getting to know Bayside was really kind of fun. Even though it was part of New York City, it felt like its own unique place.”
The film will be shown as part of the ReelAbilities Film Festival, which runs from March 8-14. On Sunday, March 11, it will be screened at 10 a.m. at the Central Queens Y, located at 67-09 108th St. in Forest Hills. The documentary will also be shown in Manhattan and Long Island. Click here for the full list.
Tambini said she hopes the film will “begin to change the conversation on disability.”
“I was like a lot people: before I started making this film, I really didn’t think about people with disabilities,” Tambini said. “This taught me that these people are incredible and there’s so much humanity in each and every one of us. They were just surprising me all the time with how kind they are.”
To learn more about the organization, visit the Dancing Dreams website. View a trailer for the film below.