Darby’s dancers

Daughter inspires program for special needs children

Story by Liberty Maldonado Cowan, Staff Writer

Everyone is different and unique, so it is important for everyone to have an outlet where they feel safe and like they can be themselves but most importantly do the things that they love. 

Darby’s Dancers is an organization dedicated to bringing the joy of dancing to as many children and adults with special needs as possible. It was started by Valerie and Patrick Jones in memory of their daughter Darby Jones who had a strong passion for dancing and, despite her disabilities, put forth all her effort to be her best at it. 

“I had a career in special education, raised a daughter with special needs, and have always had a passion for working with children with disabilities. These kids have always had my heart,” Valerie Jones said. “I knew I had to do something to carry on Darby’s legacy of kindness, bravery and optimism.”

After Darby passed away in 2013 at age 14, it was important to her parents that as many people with special needs be given the same opportunities she had. With the help of the Joneses and dance studios across the country, children and adults with special needs are able to participate in dance classes with assistance that is judgment free.

“She loved to dance and perform on stage, so my husband and I decided we wanted to bring the same joy to as many children with special needs as possible,” Valerie Jones said.

The Down Syndrome Society of Texarkana, as well as Texarkana Dance Academy, made this opportunity available in the community in just a short amount of time. President of the Down Syndrome Society Melissa Massey worked with TDA owner Rachel Boston after a member of the Down Syndrome Society participated in a mini camp this past summer.

“Rachel Boston mentioned interest in wanting to do the Darby’s Dancers Program, and a connection was born,” Massey said. “Rachel used to be a special education teacher, so we knew it was a match made in heaven.” 

Texarkana Dance Academy was happy to be given the opportunity to spread the happiness that comes from dance with people who might have had bad experiences elsewhere. Due to Boston’s qualifications that come from her last job, the process to get it all started was fast and relatively easy. 

“Getting into special ed., my goal was to find ways to include my students in activities with their peers, so when I heard about Darby’s Dancers, I knew immediately I wanted to do it,” Boston said. “All the education and training I received in college and while teaching was definitely a huge reason I felt I could easily implant Darby’s Dancers. It gave me an extensive background knowledge of all types of disabilities and how to meet the individual needs of all of our students.”

Teachers and assistants in this organization are happy to help further dance education to people who otherwise might not have given a chance. They put their time and energy into working with them and teaching them as if they were any other student.

“Love. Joy. Happiness. Pride. Those four words describe how I feel about every student and peer partner that are involved in our Darby’s Dancers program,” Boston said. “The way our peer partners interact with their dancer is beautiful. Seeing the progress in our dancers and peer mentors brings tears to my eyes and joy to my heart every week.” 

Thanks to Darby’s family, teens willing to volunteer and studio participation, people with special needs are given the chance to experience the joy that comes from dancing and the feeling of accomplishment from doing something they are passionate about. 

“I totally underestimated the impact that this opportunity would have on our teen volunteers,” Valerie Jones said. “I’ve heard many humbling stories, and I am so pleased that the program means so much to so many.”