Merrimack Hall Dancers Aim to Change the World on Stage in Los Angeles

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -  An arts program for special needs dance students, based in Huntsville, was invited to dance at the Celebration of Dance gala event in Los Angeles this weekend.

Their performance aims to change the world, starting with how the dance world accommodates people who are different from others.

At Merrimack Hall on Wednesday morning, Debra Jenkins looked at costumes to be worn by the dancers performing at the Music Center in Los Angeles Saturday night.

The costumes are the final touch for the dancers who hope to change the world of dance.  Jenkins said the group got the invitation to perform on July 11th.  They've been in rehearsals daily, tweaking their dance entitled "Change the World."

"Our program is one of those that you really have to see it to understand it," said Jenkins.

Jenkins is the co-founder of Merrimack Hall.  She said the cast includes five young dancers from Element School of Dance, and five others who have special needs, including Down Syndrome and autism.

The song they chose is fitting:  John Mayer's "Waiting on the World to Change."

Jenkins said the dancers depict a reality many special needs children experience at the hands of children and people who are different from them.

"Being shunned, being left out, and being marginalized, which is something that happens to them every day and that's what makes it so very powerful," said Jenkins.

The Dizzy Feet Foundation, an organization that caters to the underserved, gave Merrimack Hall $10,000 to support the program.  But Jenkins said they didn't quite understand how the local students were underserved until a Dizzy Feet board member saw the dance in person.

"Our students are underserved because they live with challenges and disabilities that prevent them from participating in mainstream arts activities," said Jenkins.

She explained this arts program has already changed the world of those who've helped with the dance.

"The arts is now expanding to kids with special needs and it's just a blessing that the arts is now available to them," said Melissa Reynolds.  She helped choreograph the dance with Hayley Henderson and both of them admit it's an experience that has changed them.

"The most important thing that I've taken away from it is that everybody just needs a lot of love in their life," said Henderson, the owner of Element School of Dance in Huntsville.

The cast hopes the 1,200 people who see them dance in Los Angeles will be changed by their message and go back to their communities and offer arts classes to special needs people across the country.

"We're waiting on the world to change," added Jenkins.  "And the students in our program are waiting on the world to change. They're waiting for a world that sees that we're all more alike than we are different."

There will be a free performance of the dance Wednesday night at the Merrimack at 7 p.m.

Donations are welcome, as the group still needs to raise about $3,000 to make the trip to California.  They plan to fly out of Huntsville on Thursday morning.

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