Leaps and bounds: Red River Dance’s adaptive dance program helps students build creativity, confidence

Beyond Dance adaptive dance program students performed during the 2022 winter recital at Red River Dance and Performing Company. Contributed photo/Chad Maloy Photography

Last fall, Red River Dance set the stage for inclusivity on stage by offering classes designed specifically for students with learning differences and special needs. 

Beyond Dance, powered by Gate City Bank, is the region’s only free adaptive dance program for students ages 7 to 15+. The program, which was custom-designed by Red River Dance team members and instructors, is geared towards students with unique physical, emotional or developmental needs.

Goals of the program are to help improve students’ fine and gross motor skills, but also to enhance their self-confidence and creativity. 

“Beyond Dance is amazing. It provides us opportunities to teach dance to kids who may have sensory issues or they aren’t able to focus as long as in a typical dance class,” Caitlin Killoran, executive director of Red River Dance, said. 

Instructors are certified by a national program called Rhythm Works, which marries dance classes with evidence-based principles, occupational therapy, physical therapy, ABA therapy and speech therapy.

“We currently have three instructors who are certified through Rhythm works, thanks to funding provided by Gate City Bank. And so, kind of like in school, if you need extra help, this is our way of providing the same service in a dance setting,” Hailey Wilmer, Red River Dance program director said. 

Gate City’s funding has provided Red River Dance with money to support certifying instructors through Rhythm Works, make the program free of charge and provide recital costumes for each Beyond Dance student. 

Gate City Bank Senior Vice President of Culture Amanda Torok, a longtime Red River Dance member, instructor and board member, said both the program and the bank’s charitable donation is really about building inclusion in the community. 

“We really want everybody to have a place where they can feel at home and welcome, and no matter what potential hurdle they may be dealing with, there is still a place for them,” Torok said. “It was really natural for Gate City to partner with Red River Dance in this way.”


Gate City Bank has a longstanding reputation for donating to local nonprofits and contributes an estimated $3.1 million annually to community charitable organizations. 

“All parents are asked to provide proper shoes,” Killoran said. “And a lot of the time it’s just tennis shoes. We know every family is unique financially, and it means so much to us at Red River Dance to be able to provide this for free to anyone who wants it.” 

Little steps, big impact

Because dance helps with coordination and flexibility, students often see improved fine and gross motor skills. 

“A lot of the dance steps, for example, are hopefully going to help students with daily activities, like walking up and down the stairs, using coordination with your right and left, even brushing your teeth. Dance can help improve those activities of daily living,” Wilmer said.

Wilmer said she remembers a student who started classes being so shy that she couldn’t dance in front of the class. “Now she comes to class and is just ready to go and almost like a leader of her class. It’s been really fun to see her open up, and honestly, I think the coolest thing is seeing them on stage performing for an audience and hearing the cheering for them and how good they feel after they’ve done it is one of my favorite parts.” 

Families benefit

Andrea Grefsheim, a parent who enrolled her son Calvin in Beyond Dance last fall, said the program has helped him build confidence and self-esteem. 

“It’s helped Calvin learn how to participate in regular social activities and communicate with others,” Grefsheim said. 

Jenna Greencheck’s daughter Peyton has also benefited from Beyond Dance because of the program’s focus on diverse learning styles.

“For most special needs kids, school or any extracurricular activities can be exhausting physically, mentally and emotionally,” Greencheck said. “It’s so important to have a creative outlet for kids who may have to work harder than their peers.”

She said that Peyton not only improved her physical fitness, but she also gained more self-confidence and creativity. 

“Peyton looks forward to class every week,” Greencheck said. 

Leaping forward

There is no application process, but during registration families are asked to fill out more information on their student’s physical, emotional needs and learning styles so that the studio can accommodate their needs.

Red River Dance hopes to add a summer program to its calendar, but that will be based on inquiries coming in from community members and families interested in enrolling students. Killoran said she welcomes families and guardians to call or email anytime to inquire. 

 Meantime, class sizes are growing as the word about Beyond Dance continues to get out.“The sky’s the limit for growth,” Killoran said. “If there is a need out there from parents and in the community, the more we can meet those needs. All we want people to do is reach out and see what we can do to help.”

About the author

Lonna Whiting is a freelance writer and owner of lonna.co, a content marketing and communications agency located in Fargo, North Dakota. She is a frequent contributor to The Arts Partnership’s content library and also provides strategic communications consultation to the organization.




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