“It takes a special kind of heart, a renewed sense of purpose and hope, our innovative spirit and strong affirmation… that no child should be left behind.”
That was the inspiration and guide, three years ago, that spurred dance therapy specialist Ana Rivera, along with her daughters Therese and Patricia, to put up The Heart at Play (THP) Foundation, which provides dance movement therapy to special needs children and adults.
Ana earned a degree in Special Education and pioneered the unique Dance Movement Therapy program, which uses a scientific, step-by-step approach in providing help.
Therese and Patricia, meanwhile, have been dancing all their lives, and competed in international dance competitions.
Motivated by a desire to share the joy of dancing, Therese and Patricia encouraged their peers, fellow dancers and friends to become volunteers at THP. In no time, the project morphed into a youth movement.
“As Filipino dancers, we know in our hearts that every moment we spend on that stage, in the limelight and in front of a crowd, we lift it all up to Him. What better way to pay it forward than by sharing what we love the most, which is dance?” wrote Therese on her Facebook page, as an invitation for her dancer friends to volunteer at THP.
Students from Immaculate Conception Academy, Xavier, Ateneo and other high schools and universities have heeded the call and joined the THP family.
“Why can’t the special kids know how it feels, to lift their leg this high? It’s pretty heartbreaking,” said Patricia when I asked her about the advocacy.
I myself was invited to volunteer for THP, and didn’t know what to expect. But I soon found out that it’s not just about being a volunteer, but being a “volunpeer,” as I saw friends and peers enthusiastically participating in the program.
Even with the sweltering heat, I could see that everyone was trying their best to help out the special persons.
I honestly never knew that dancing could be so tiring. I was really challenged to find ways to help Gio, the kid I was teaching, do the dance steps.
I thought long and hard about how I could communicate with him, since he had a speaking disability. So, whenever Gio and the other children would flash a smile, I was only too happy to smile back, realizing that I was able to bring a little joy to their lives.
After the dance session, the “volunpeers,” along with their partners, were given a chance to interact, get to know the mothers, and learn more about their partners.
It was really an eye-opener for me, as I learned more about what my partner Gio did in his waking hours, and how THP tries as much as possible to give him a normal life by assigning him household chores.
On to the big stage
On June 21, THP will hold its first benefit concert, “Specially Me: Merging Two Worlds Through Dance!” at the Henry Lee Irwin Theater of the Ateneo de Manila University.
Through this concert, the foundation hopes to widen the awareness about its cause, and, at the same time, give special children a chance to express themselves by performing onstage.
It’s heartbreaking to know that these kids will never be able to do the things we take for granted. Interacting with them showed me how lucky I am. The experience of being a THP volunteer is a life-changing one.