EMARC Dance: Bringing the Community Together

By ASHLEY LEUNG

Snow White, mad scientists, Batman, and other creatures of all sorts came out on the dance floor, jamming out to some of the biggest hits in the music industry. The lively atmosphere of the dance floor made everybody eager to dance the night away. However, there was something about this dance that separated it from other school dances. This dance was one of the many recreational programs provided by East Middlesex ARC (EMARC), a non-profit organization that provides services for those with developmental disabilities to live with others in their daily communities.

Since the establishment of  the organization in 1954, EMARC has provided its services to special needs citizens in 10 different cities and towns, such as North Reading, Reading, Malden, Medford, Melrose, and Revere. Some of these services include group homes, residential support, day programs for people over 20 years of age, a family help center, and many recreational programs. One of these recreational programs would be dances held at North Reading High School.

The EMARC dances started in 2004, when a mother of two sons realized the differences between the opportunities her oldest son and youngest son, who had developmental disabilities, had. Seeing how her eldest son would be able to go to school dances and have typical high school experiences while her younger son could not saddened the mother. She then decided to host a dance for her second son, along with other high school students who also had developmental disabilities. Teaming up with EMARC, the dance became a success and everybody there, the guests and volunteers, had a great time. Due to the success with the first dance, they decided to host dances every year, four times a year. Starting from last year, EMARC has partnered with Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress “Advocates in Motion” to “have more fun activities.” Along with the Halloween dance, there is the Snow Ball Dance to be held on Jan. 25, 2013, the Spring Fling to be held around April or May, and the summer dance to be held in Aug.

At first, the dances only involved Reading High School students as volunteers. After, North Reading High School also joined, and three years ago, when Malden High School's Helping Hands club was formed, Malden participated in the dances as well. This year, MHS's Sparrow Club had also joined in volunteering at dances to help show what to do at a dance. The volunteers really "like to meet the new kids" and get to know them, even have a dance or two. The experience helps them "learn how to talk and have fun with [people who have developmental disorders]." Many of the volunteers return year after year to these dances because they all "have a great time with the kids."

The Director of Recreation at EMARC, Chenine Peloquin, says that the goal of these dances "is for students with developmental disabilities to have the opportunity to participate in a dance where people understand their needs." As for the volunteers at the dances, she believes that the volunteer students “can learn that disabled students are more similar to [them] than not.” These dances truly help the volunteer students because “realistically, people will go out and will see people with disabilities, so this helps them with being with them.” The dances give a sense of security where “nobody is judged, whether if they have developmental disabilities or cannot dance well.”

This year’s dance took place in the cafeteria of North Reading High School, with a large space for dancing in the front, and small tables for people to sit when they are tired. Along the back of the room was a table full of snacks for the hungry guests. The walls had Halloween decorations all over them, and the DJ’s equipment was covered in fake spider webs, creating the room’s spooky Halloween feel. After a while of dancing, the adult chaperones stopped the music and started a mummy wrapping contest, using rolls of toilet paper. Everybody split into teams of 10, and wrapped one member of their team in the toilet paper. After about 5 minutes, each “mummy” went to the front and was voted on being the best mummy through the volume of applause. When the contest was over, everybody continued on with their dancing, all through the night and the dance was a memorable experience.

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