From the desk of Rebecca Fortelka, Guest Editor and AXIS Board Member.
Aki Kudo began dancing when she was 10 years old. She was then accepted into the Steps Conservatory Scholarship program in NYC. But in 2012, she found her true passion in ballroom dance and Argentine Tango. She now uses her personal and professional experience to help children with special needs. She and her professional dance partner, Alexey Gavrilov (founder of the dance program), are currently teaching a group of children at Cooke Center in NYC and were able to find a temporary home for their program in Edgewater, NJ, where they offer classes every weekend. Aki and Alexey are working to create awareness and spread the word about their innovative dance program.
AXIS: What inspires you to create?
In Seattle more than two years ago, I met a little girl with special needs (9 years old) through her doctor. He asked me if I could dance with her for their annual Christmas Spectacular performance (he and his wife own a dance studio). Although I lived in NJ, I said yes to the opportunity to help her. At the time I didn’t have any experience working with children with special needs, but the best part about that experience was getting to know this little girl. She inspired me in a way that forever changed the course of my life. We learned from each other, I taught her dance steps, and she showed me a way into her world. Her strong desire to dance and her energy kept me traveling between the East and West Coast on a weekly basis for almost a year and a half.
I can’t explain just how strong she is both as a person and an artist. She gave me an incredible gift and she planted the seed for my dream which was to help other amazing children with special needs.
She gave me a very special collage she made herself. You see her life in that collage. A lock of her hair, hospital passes, and stickers which she kept after every hospital stay (she had at least 5 brain surgeries at that time), in addition to pictures of us and her words, bold and bright, “fight for life” and “live to dance.” This is my inspiration.
What are some key factors you want our readers to know about your program?
Most importantly, our program will create a community where kids can socialize other than school and therapy centers. Our classes, even if they are structured and organized, are still about fun and a place to support each other (I have seen many times over how they encourage their friends to try something they can’t do at first). Creating friendship and learning these skills can help them well into adulthood.
Ballroom and social dancing are amazing for children because it teaches them discipline, good manners, and etiquette in a fun way. It teaches them how to connect, how to lead, and care for their partner. The kids rarely have the opportunity to feel empowered in their everyday life. Dance changes their lives for the better.
Parents of course are encouraged to participate which creates a different dynamic in their relationship. They get to spend time together doing something creative and fun.
What is your favorite thing about dance?
My favorite thing about dance is that it is a limitless world. Children know this to be true and are drawn to the music which inspires them to move. They feel free being inside of this creative world.
What are your favorite quotes and why?
“Fight for life - Live to Dance” - by the little girl from Seattle.
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” - by Pablo Picasso
Learn more on the website for Gavrilov Dance.
Check out videos on their Youtube Channel.