Ten years ago, mother of two Lucy Ricardo embarked on a remarkable journey when she launched DanceAbility.
DanceAbility aims to enrich the lives of children and adults with intellectual or physical disabilities through dance and music in a safe, fun and caring environment.
Recently, Lucy – the founder – was honoured as an Inspirational Kambala Old Girl by her former school, which recognised her achievements over the past decade.
Here, Lucy shares her empowering story with The Carousel.
After graduating from Kambala in 1982, I embarked on extensive overseas travel for 3 years & one of my major highlights was working and living in Iceland for 6 months.
On returning I became an Executive Assistant to a Chairman of a major cinema advertising firm for 10 years before family life took over.
My son Patrick was born with Down Syndrome. Putting aside the sadness and grief, my direction in life changed and Patrick became my biggest inspiration.
Inspired by a TV program I saw in 2008, I increasingly became aware of the need for Patrick to develop and explore opportunities like his younger abled sister Arabella had through her weekly dance classes. So in mid 2008, I decided to launch a dance school, providing direct relief for children and adults living with a disability in Sydney’s East to also be enriched by the wonderful world of dance and music.
Many great ideas are dreamt up, but few ever see the light of day because the hard bit is always in the doing and the commitment. Experience has taught me that words are one thing, action is everything.
Saying this, I had no experience in dance, or let alone running a business or charity, but with the support of family, friends and a team of dedicated volunteers, my vision and dream of creating a non-profit organisation was realised and DanceAbility Australia, recognised as a Public Benevolent Institution was formed.
From our humble beginnings in a small scout hall at Clovelly, with an enrolment of 12 students and 6 volunteers in 2009, DanceAbility grew into a top class dancing school with enrolments capped at 70 and 20 dedicated volunteers. We have also been fortunate to have many school students come to help and complete their Duke of Edinburgh programme with us over the years.
Many of our younger dancers who joined in the early days have literally danced all the way through childhood into adulthood under the caring and watchful eyes of myself and the volunteers.
Our mission at DanceAbility was …. “Forget disabilities, everyone has the ability to shine on stage”.
Through structured weekly dance rehearsals DanceAbility allowed these unique individuals ranging in age from 5 – 55 years the opportunity to rise above the stars, discover themselves and showcase their extraordinary talent. Among the tapping feet, hip hop moves and cha cha there is nothing their fancy footwork can’t achieve and coordination or not, the energy is always infectious and friendships blossomed.
Dancing with the feet is one thing. Dancing with the heart is another.
Our students have proven this every Wednesday evening over the past decade. The achievements and progress of all the students is just incredible. Not only have they grown in confidence and socially, their dedication enthusiasm, brilliant talent and personalities have brought so much joy to us all. The meet and greet as students enter the studio, the cuddles, the kisses, the laughs, the high fives and the occasional tears have been part of the weekly experience. Each and everyone of the students is unique and together they have contributed to the success of the DanceAbility family.
The benefits of the dance program are huge. The combined health benefits of exercise and the strong sense of belonging to this rich community are profound. Not to mention the positive impact this all has on the extended community of family, carers and friends.
There of course would be no “ability to dance” and no DanceAbility if it wasn’t for the most incredible team of volunteers, myself included, who have been with DA from the day we opened our doors 10 years ago. Volunteers are integral in our society. However, there is so much more to being a volunteer than giving back. Not only is it important because it helps to better our community, it also helps to better us as an individual. The love and compassion displayed by the DanceAbility volunteers is immeasurable and their ongoing devotion and commitment to the dance school has been exceptional.
As the Founder and Principal of DanceAbility, I had to over the past decade ensure the school was financial viable to survive and pay our dance teacher, who was the only person to receive a remuneration. This was accomplished by community grants, fundraising events our team of volunteers organised and also fundraising events the community held for us, plus private donations.
Over the years I have learnt about tenderness, love and patience and I have been so lucky to meet so many wonderful families and students less fortunate than ourselves.
It has been said: “To accomplish great things we must not only act, but also dream, not only plan, but also believe and this I truly feel I have achieved.”
Patrick, made me the person I am today and I do know I wouldn’t be celebrating my achievements if it wasn’t for him.
My daughter Arabella also sacrificed her Wednesday evenings and supported me along this journey and helped behind the scenes over the past decade.
In the words of Stevie Wonder: “We all have the Ability. The difference is how we use it.”