Stories of Support

ArtSparks Dynamite Duos Program

Jul 12, 2023

Their dance class is named ‘Dynamite Duos’, and although they aren’t the featured artists, these lovely ladies are the embodiment of that dynamite title. Akron area native Kara Cea is the Executive Director of ArtSparks, an organization that teaches expressive dance to children in the Akron Public School (APS) system. Shauna Conzaman, Director of Operations and Development for ArtSparks, ensures that everything runs smoothly for the team. And Erica Piper, Artistic Director and Lead Teaching Artist, offers hands-on dance instruction to primary school students. It’s easy to see why these ladies are dynamite; their collective backgrounds read like a ‘who’s who’ in the world of dance.

Kara founded ArtSparks in Akron in 2012, and quickly recognized that there was a greater need to be served in our local schools – that of inclusion. Working in partnership with APS and Summit County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Kara started the Dynamite Duos program in 2018. Modeled after the D.R.E.A.M Project for young dancers with disabilities sponsored by the National Dance Institute in New York City, Dynamite Duos similarly offers dance instruction to students with disabilities. Each student with a disability is paired with an able-bodied student, and together they share the joys and freedom of music and dancing.

Merely watching these students perform is a soulfully-enriching experience. Per Kara, there is not only emotional connectedness, but ‘beautiful moments’ that are observed everyday between students, teachers, and others involved in the program. “The advocacy trickles down to each child” says Kara. Children develop discipline and a belief in themselves through arts play; it is a vital role in fostering the creativity and self-confidence necessary to become productive citizens.

The impact of learning to dance in a program that includes Medically Disabled (MD) students extends beyond the dance floor. After COVID, when school classes resumed and field trips were once again possible for students, the bonds that had been formed between MD students and General Education (Gen Ed) students continued. Peer partners organically began stepping up beyond the dance class to socialize and to help their MD partners. Barriers were overcome, all students were actively engaged in outings, and there was a feeling of positivity that was not felt in the past. Adult observers remarked that they had never before witnessed such acceptance and encouraging social interactions among visiting classes.

The dance tactics taught in the classroom spill over to the playground, after-school and in private lives. “They are developing ‘cool relationships’ with each other, both MD and Gen Ed students” states Erica. “Kids don’t feel as isolated; they learn to be tolerant and strive to understand each other better as a result of the Dynamic Duos program”. Even teachers are noting the camaraderie and the inclusion in settings outside the classroom, such as on the playground.

The success takes hard work, and there have been much learning and improvements since the program’s inception. “We meet with the Gen Ed student peers for 6 weeks prior to introducing them to MD students. We practice communication techniques, and we learn how to connect with our MD partner” continues Erica. Many Gen Ed students have never met another student with a disability, and the experience is new to them.

So what motivates Kara, Shauna and Erica? For Kara, it’s seeing all the benefits, the wonderful connections, and cherishing all the beautiful moments. For Shauna, it’s advancing music as a tool, and witnessing story-after-story of a child’s life being enriched, while opening their eyes to their hidden gifts. For Erica, it’s all the above, plus the exceptional and talented staff that she works with every day. And per Erica, “Always remember the Hummingbird”, “I will do the best I can”.

The Charles and Salome Reymann Foundation is proud to be both a sponsor and partner with ArtSparks and their Dynamite Duos program. It is through ArtSparks’ efforts, and other similar organizations, that the Reymann Foundation can deliver on our mission to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities in Northeast Ohio.

Thank you ArtSparks for becoming part of our story with every beautiful moment you share!