Unified Dance Provides Opportunities for Students of All Skill Levels


Ashley Caldeira

One of NFA’s recent Unified Dance teams

Leeya Fabry, NFA Red & White Reporter

In 1992, the Special Olympics partnered with the CIAC (Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference), the body that directs high school sports in Connecticut, to provide unified sports to a mix of kids with and without disabilities. Unified sports provide athletic opportunities for kids of all abilities to work on a team together.  Norwich Free Academy is one of 44 public high schools in Connecticut that provides these great opportunities.

The Unified Program supplies kids with special needs the opportunities to participate in these sports teams.  The main tenet of the Unified Program is that these kids deserve the chances to take part in sports in other teams; they might not get moments like these at other schools.

Every Friday the Unified Dance Team practices, and students of all dance abilities come together.  Ashley Caldeira, who runs the Unified Dance program, says “I really wanted to create a team of students with absolutely any ability and I wanted to give them that team, family environment.”  

Norwich Free Academy has one of the top unified programs in the state.  These programs here at NFA provide many important opportunities for students to have experiences in sports and clubs.  Caldeira said that, “Our entire school is so diverse and we need to provide as many opportunities as possible.  Not everyone comes from a dance background, we have a lot of kids who want to dance and want to perform, but they may not have had the liberties to dance in a studio growing up.  I still want to be able to provide these opportunities for them.  I think that programs such as these make Norwich Free Academy stand out and it gives kids of all abilities 

opportunities that every kid should have.”

The unified dance team is full of kids of different abilities, but the same love for the sport.  Caldeira said, “A lot of people come to me auditioning for a dance team and they don’t make it and they try every year, but that doesn’t mean that they’re a bad dancer by any means, it just means they didn’t make the team.  So by creating a unified dance team where there is just a great atmosphere for kids to just let loose and even if they don’t have the most advanced dance skill, we are coming with the same passion and love for dance.”

The team does many performances during the school year and because of this they gain many important qualities through doing something that they love.  “They do a number of performances during the year to give them skills such as confidence and self-esteem,” says Caldeira.

The Unified Dance Team creates a space that the dancers can escape to and let loose while doing something that they really love and enjoy.   Caldeira states, “There are a lot of stressors in life right now, especially school.  Just to come and really dance and joke and have a good time with their peers it really creates a positive atmosphere.”

The unified dance program has many goals that they want to reach during this season.  Caldeira, who is also the Head Coach of the NFA Dance team says, “The goal is to allow them to continue gaining dance experience and to interact with one another, and kids of different demographics.”   

This unified team helps kids learn valuable skills such as working together with a team, making connections with people, and learning how to dance.  This team helps make people into well-rounded individuals and increase the students’ knowledge in dance.  The Unified Dance Team also helps kids continue to work out and be in shape, which is very beneficial to their health.