Given all those captivating pirouettes, plies, and pink tutus, it's no wonder little girls, even those in wheelchairs and with leg braces, dream about becoming dancers. So when one of Joann Ferrara's physical therapy patients said, "I want to be a ballerina," Ferrara set out to make it happen.
Ferrara founded "Dancing Dreams: Ballet for Every Child" in 2003. The Bayside, N.Y.-based program creates an environment where children with physical disabilities can experience the pleasure of dancing via artistic and therapeutic movements customized to their individual capabilities. Ferrara's first five ballerinas could not stand or sit independently, so the physical therapist enlisted high school student volunteers to assist the children.
A New York Times article featuring Dancing Dreams prompted a publisher to approach Ferrara about a children's book. "Ballerina Dreams," written by author Lauren Thompson with Ferrara's assistance, was released in 2007.
She, her original five ballerinas, and Thompson participated in a book publication party, complete with red carpet and live television news coverage, at a Barnes and Noble. The next day, Ferrara was in Vermont, reading her book to an elementary school class, talking to physical therapy students, faculty and patient families at UVM, and doing a book signing.
"It's incredible," Ferrara says of the feelings the work engenders in her. "You look up at the stage at the end of a recital, at the faces of the dancers and the helpers, how proud they all are. That's what it's all about."