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People Who CareCaroline Merritt, a 2015 graduate of The University of Richmond with degrees in dance and psychology, spent the summer at the Beach Club of Dare as a volunteer dance instructor. Throughout the summer, she worked with the people we support on stretching, yoga and learning dance movements. She did exercises with them to encourage social interaction and community building. Over the course of her time with Beach Club, she also worked on a group dance that the participants now perform for guests.

“I am profoundly inspired by the way that dance can be such a beautiful outlet for those with developmental disabilities,” Merritt said. The following is a piece she wrote as her time at Beach Club was nearing an end.

"Seen any bluebirds today?" Steve asked as he welcomed me through the entrance of Monarch’s Beach Club.

"Not today, Steve," I replied. "But my grandmother said she saw a real pretty little yellow bird this morning. What would that have been?"

"Probably a goldfinch,” he said. “They're real pretty. Like hummingbirds and robins. Their eggs are no bigger than a jellybean."

Two days a week for the past two months, my knowledge of birds has expanded almost as much as my compassion for the members who so graciously welcomed me into their lives. Profoundly inspired by each member’s unique personality, I allow these qualities to fuel our movement during each session of our summer dance program.

I encourage Steve to spread his wings like a bird as he enters our freestyle circle; I ask that Ellen move her hips in the same kind of circle that she loves to draw on the whiteboard; and I invite Charlene's lively spirit to shake up the moves of my choreography. With such a beautiful melting pot of talent and enthusiasm, it will be truly heartbreaking to say good-bye.

Each morning of my dance program, we gather in a circle to welcome the day with a combination of yoga-inspired stretches and balances. Transitioning through sun salutations, warriors, and tree pose, I often lose balance in the midst of my excitement for the continuous growth in strength and form.

Awakened by yoga, I then invite the circle to become a stage for free-style dancing followed by partner dancing. Touched by witnessing the excitement they feel in asking and being asked to dance; I too fill with joy when one of them approaches me to dance. And when the time comes to join together for Chubby Checker's “The Twist,” I remember the origins of dance: “Cultivated to harness community, fellowship, unity.”

Thank you to Monarch, for an experience that shall continue to inspire me long after our last movement circle. I will never forget the strong qualities of love and acceptance that pulse through the extraordinary program. Keep dancing.

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