SoCal dance program for those with Down syndrome expands nationwide

Amid pandemic, local nonprofit Down for Dance is now offering dance classes to those of all abilities across the country.
LONG BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- Down for Dance isn't letting anything stop them from moving and shaking.

"Our mission is to empower individuals with Down syndrome to build a stronger sense of self through dance," said co-founder Annie Griffith.

Annie Griffith and Sari Anna Thomas founded the nonprofit organization in the summer of 2017, offering dance classes to children and young adults of all abilities in Long Beach and Orange County.

"Our vision is to spread this around the world so that every individual with Down syndrome has access to high quality dance classes," Thomas said.

Griffith's brother, Sam, has Down syndrome. She said that she noticed a need within the community.

"There are sports and other activities out there for individuals with disabilities, but there's not as much of high-quality arts programming," Griffith said.

Griffith and Thomas had always dreamed of expanding the organization nationwide. When the pandemic hit, the duo found an opportunity to do just that through virtual classes.

"We decided that we would be able to reach farther than we could normally reach beyond our neighborhoods," Thomas said. "We started reaching out to different organizations and Down syndrome associations around the country."

Down for Dance now teaches almost 90 dancers across 16 states. Zoom classes range from hip-hop, to musical theater to yoga.

"Dancing keeps my heart safe," said Jessica LaSpada, a Down for Dance dancer and assistant from Long Beach.

Griffith's brother, Sam Heller, is now able to participate in his sister's program all the way from Allentown, PA.

"I dance with a bunch of people and they're really sweet," Heller, 37, said.

Griffith and Thomas said that once dancers are able to get back into the studio, they plan to continue offering online classes for dancers everywhere.

"If those dancers on the East Coast want to keep dancing with us, I will Zoom until I stop teaching because the ability that we have to reach more dancers and to serve that community is so important to us," Thomas said.

The nonprofit currently has a GoFundMe page set up to cover tuition costs for dancers. To learn more about Down for Dance, visit their website.

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