Vancouver's DANA's Dreamers lets children with disabilities strut their stuff (with video)

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

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For more information on DANA's Dreamers, email differentlyabled@dana2010.org or call 360-693-3262.Most of a group of 15 kids stomp, clap and shimmy as instructions are shouted out over the twangy music of Brooks & Dunn's "Boot Scootin' Boogie."

photoDionna Standridge is the founder of DANA, which stands for Differently Abled Nationally Accepted. DANA's Dreamers is a performance group for individuals with disabilities that formed in April and has grown rapidly over the past few months.

(/The Columbian)

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Amid the dancing bodies is 9-year-old Colby Standridge-Stott, who is sprawled on his stomach, flailing his arms and legs as he pushes his body around on the wooden dance floor.

Though most of the steps and kicks are off cue and some of the claps come a little late, Bo Kent beams as she turns to the group and puts her hands together and says, "Perfect!" Her words are met with huge smiles and cheers from the group.

Those grins are the real goal of DANA's Dreamers, a performance team of individuals, most of them children, with disabilities.

"I hate the 'dis' word," said Dionna Standridge, founder of the group and Colby's grandmother. "It's so negative … Colby's always told what he will never do. I prefer differently abled."

Standridge had the idea for DANA, which stands for Differently Abled Nationally Accepted, when she began taking care of Colby while living in North Carolina. She saw how other children like Colby were treated.

"Girls would say, 'I want to be a cheerleader, they won't let me be a cheerleader because I have Down syndrome,'" she said. Standridge would regularly overhear children saying they wish she could be normal and — the statement that she said lit her fire — "I wish I could be a real girl."

"How can your kids really not see themselves as real?" she said with an outraged look on her face.

After moving to Vancouver and spending more than two years securing a board of directors, Standridge formed DANA, first as a way to promote and educate others about the services available for those with disabilities. It evolved into a group of performers with cerebral palsy, autism, ADHD and more types of the "dis" word.

While those differences can lead to long stares and rude comments in public, inside the walls of the ballroom at the American Legion hall in Vancouver's West Minnehaha neighborhood, the kids are free to be themselves.

Aside from an occasional "shhh" uttered when someone gets too loud to hear a coach, participants are not in trouble if they act out.

"If you're running around it's OK," Standridge said. "They don't have to feel like they're going to be disciplined for being who they are."

DANA's Dreamers was formed in April and quickly grew by word of mouth from one participant to a troupe of 15. Standridge and DANA board members hope to expand to include more people, by reaching out to groups such as area school districts, but they first must grow their volunteer base.

They also want to raise more money so they can perform at more events. Standridge tries to keep costs low so that families can afford the extracurricular activity, charging $45 for registration, equipment fees and a T-shirt. The organization is in the process of becoming a nonprofit so that people interested in helping out can make donations.

The group is currently practicing a dance routine that they will perform at various parades and other events. They also perform with hoops, pompoms and flags.

"It's a bit of a spectacle," said Mary Getty, 43, whose daughter Lily is in the group.

She said that the group has been good for her child and the coaches are patient in dealing with the fact that she's not "typical," curling two sets of fingers in air quotes as she utters the word.

"Everyone is different and to have that be valued is very important," she said. "There's a feeling of acceptance in the room."

Sara Peterson's 10-year-old twin daughters look forward to the practices, which take place every other Wednesday.

"They've made more friends and got to be in a parade, which was the biggest thing to them," she said. "They're finally the cool kids and they don't get to feel that way very often."

Emily Gillespie: 360-735-4522; http://www.twitter.com/col_copsemily.gillespie@columbian.com.

View a video of DANA's Dreamers dancing on The Columbian's YouTube Channel.