Jani and JaLeah Holman, two college students in Utah, took on Sparkly PALS five years ago. They first encountered the program when directors Marion Tannie Peters and Mark Shipley moved to Utah and started a dance class for participants with Down’s Syndrome like two of Jani and JaLeah’s siblings. However, when the directors moved away, the group shifted into the hands of the Holman sisters, who had experience in dance performance and working with people with Down’s Syndrome.
They began instructing ten students in their mom’s basement, and now they have forty dancers. Realizing the potential they saw in their dances, the Holman sisters wanted to give them the same opportunities that other dance companies have. During the summers, the group performs at several Especially For Youth sessions, receiving incredible feedback from the audiences.
“They cheer, clap, and scream wildly for our dancers. It really helps raise each dancer’s self-esteem. It is an unbeatable experience. The teenagers treat our dancers like they are superstars."
With four age groups, Minis (three to seven), Dazzles (six to eleven), Dynamites (eleven to fourteen), and Pizzazz (fourteen to adult), the dancers are as different as night and day, says Jani. “The only thing they have in common is that they all have Down’s Syndrome and they all love to dance.” The students learn by repetition and modeling, practicing for shows between January and September.
After performing for the Utah Festival of Trees event last December, it was clear that the performance went more smoothly than other performances did. Jani explains, “JaLeah and I have learned that if we expect it from our performers they will rise to the occasion and they are much more capable than a lot of people think.” So, they decided to apply to perform at Disneyland.
Disneyland invited the Sparkly PALS as the first special needs group to perform there, to participate in a workshop and show their routine to Disneyland employees. In order to raise money for the trip, the group did a half-time performance at a Utah Jazz game and sold tickets.
Since then, Sparkly PALS has performed at the National Down Syndrome Congress convention in California, receiving more national recognition. The group also performed in an international Convention for Exceptional Children in April. But beyond excellent performances, the dancers and directors have gained much more from this experience.
JaLeah, as the main choreographer and costume designer says, “I have learned a lot about how to help people with Down’s Syndrome and how to be a better teacher. I love teaching Down’s Syndrome dancers. The best part of this experience is having a personal relationship with each one of our students. They are my best friends and I love them.”
Jani agrees saying, “Sparkly PALS has helped me be a better person. I am happier because of my experiences. I look forward to teaching each week. I love these kids and they love us. They love their opportunities and I am glad to be able to offer these experiences to them.”
If you are interested in finding more about Sparkly PALS, email Jani Holman at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interested in starting a similar group in your area, JaLeah offered this advice: “Plan and advertise and then just start it. It may be very small at first, but it will grow. Five years ago when we first started Sparkly PALS, we never dreamed that we would be where we are today.”