About > History of Dance Into Unity
Dance Into Unity, Inc. was officially established in January 2007 as a 501 (C) (3) organization. Prior to that date, the organization was actively working in the community to increase awareness of autism, since 2005. Through our efforts we were successful in presenting major dance productions in various theaters of Los Angeles and surrounding cities. The shows were orchestrated with a Broadway cast, which included dance celebrities who produced, “EL Corazon del Tango” (The Heart of Tango) in 2006, “Tango Adamor” in 2008 and “Through the Heart of Tango” in 2012. These productions attracted over 6,000 attendees and were successful in overall increased awareness of autism.
“Match A Friend”
The story of “The First Friend”… the connection that inspired “Match A Friend”
In September 2010, an accident gave birth to the “Match A Friend” concept.
Dance Into Unity has been actively involved in the cause of autism since 2006, but in September 2010 we got in way further.
A couple of years prior to this incident, we became involved in the life of Adam, a 17 year-old teen with a severe case of autism complicated by seizures. In September 2010 Adam had an accident – in the midst of one of these seizures where he fell down and broke his front teeth. The family was devastated and Dance Into Unity responded by organizing a 24/7 care team to help. This turned out to be a most valuable experience for everyone!
In addition to basic round-the clock care, we found a friend for Adam. The friend was a 22 year-old Special Ed student whose name was Cole, just a couple of years older than Adam. It turned out that this connection created miracle not only for Adam, but also for Cole. Adam, who was extremely withdrawn most of the time started to not only crave connection but demand it, and Cole grew as an individual to discover his strength, maturity and healthy sense of identity.
Cole spent 7 months with Adam and when he left it was very difficult for us to find a replacement. This turned out to be the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new one, the chapter called “Match A Friend”.
When Cole left, our search for another well-suited friend for Adam turned into the idea of ”Match A Friend”. The purpose was to pair up ‘friends’ creating a program teaching non-autistic individuals what it means and what it takes to connect with those who have autism while providing 1:1 attention and connection to the latter with mutual benefit for both.
The “Match A Friend” Program
“Match A Friend” provides a new, fresh and unique perspective working with both autistic and non-autistic youth, teaching them how to connect. Through this program a specially trained non-autistic youth is paired up with an autistic youth providing 1:1 attention and connection with mutual benefit for both.
“Match a Friend” is our model for enhancing the lives of the autistic population. The program recruits interested individuals who wish to offer their time and efforts to be “matched” with an autistic youth or young adult in order to establish a one-to-one connection.
The foundation of this friendship is based upon several important pillars including education and training about autism and social differences, and understanding of connection through the medium of the performing arts with focus on dance and film. Having a friend is a powerful vehicle for an autistic individual, especially at a younger age to overcome social barriers, lead a fulfilling and productive life becoming an asset to the community.
Many individuals with autism have great potentials, which are ‘locked’ and they have to struggle immensely to express them. Our programs are geared to helping them to overcome this barrier.
The preparation of ‘friends’ for each autistic participant involves training with a team of professionals who are part of Dance Into Unity’s network. The aim is to elevate the quality of life of both parties – providing a healthy and meaningful connection to an individual with autism, whilst building a sense of purpose, confidence and consciousness in their ‘friend’ – a team oriented structure, which could significantly benefit the growing generations of our society.
While being aware of the needs and characteristics of youth affected with autism spectrum disorder, and providing the necessary components to meet the demands of this population, our focus is not on treating any illness but rather creating an environment where we can all go from a deep state of disconnection to a deep and perhaps most true connection.
In 2010, we first hand witnessed miracle of such connection between a teen with a case of severe autism and his peer, which gave us the idea of “Match A Friend” (see story above). In 2011 – 2012 we worked with a group of 8 young adults (4 with special needs, 3 of them with autism), a project which was filmed in the documentary “Through the Heart of Tango” (see trailer below).
We have achieved huge success through this program thus far from both sides of the friendship, i.e., the autistic youth experienced an array of positive emotions with increased energy, attention span and alertness, while the peers who contributed their time achieved an extraordinary sense of purpose and fulfillment.
Dance Into Unity is currently partnering with the EdNet Career Institute to provide classes in Autism Advocacy, Social Interaction, Job Preparation, and more. We are working on the curriculum and planning to start classes in January 2013.
We feel that this project is essential in response to the growing epidemic of autism.
“Through the Heart of Tango” Documentary
The pilot stage of the “Match A Friend” program took place from September 2011 – May 2012 and has been filmed in the documentary “Through the Heart of Tango” (currently in post production). Below are details.
This documentary is a joint project of Dance Into Unity and Inclusion Films (http://www.inclusionfilms.com), a practical film workshop for adults with developmental disabilities.
As part of the project, on April 21, 2012 the first group of ‘friends’ (8 friends total including 4 with developmental disabilities) together with professional performers took part in DIU’s dance production “Through the Heart of Tango”. The ‘friends’ were trained for several months preceding the event by Dance Into Unity’s team of professionals. This process was filmed, and the documentary is expected to come out in 2012-2013. See the 2.5 minute trailer below.
“Through the Heart of Tango” on KCAL9 News
April 25, 2012 – Joey Travolta, founder of Inclusion Films did an interview on KCAL 9 News with Bonnie Tiegel, Sr. Executive Producer of Entertainment Tonight. Our project “Through the Heart of Tango” was in the spotlight.
Goals for 2012-2013
Establish a two-month course at the EdNet Career Institute. We are currently working on this new course geared to teach individuals with autism spectrum and their friends, skills that will encourage independent living. The curriculum will be based on our “Match A Friend” model and will include subjects such as:
- Autism Advocacy
- Building Friendships
- Define employment skills based on individual interests
- Assist with job search based on interests of the individual
- Nutrition Awareness
- Social Interaction
Becoming a vendor to the North Los Angeles County Regional Center (NLACRC) to provide Independent Living Services and Work Activities services to individuals with autism.
Engaging individuals with autism in a stage production, which will take place in Santa Monica during April (Autism Awareness Month). Our experience showed us that such activity is an invaluable experience helping to develop self-esteem, focus and strengthen connections, which greatly encourage independent living. For this project we will work in co-operation with Born to Act Players (BTAP) http://www.borntoactplayers.com, a unique theater company comprised of professional performers with and without disabilities.
Partnering with the non-profit Center for Independent Living and working with the director of “Empower Autism Now” http://empowerautismnow.com.
Partnering with Inclusion Films (www.inclusionfilms.com) with the purpose of helping their graduates with advocacy and job placement. Through our joint project “Through the Heart of Tango” we have developed closed relations and are looking forward working with this wonderful organization for the same cause.
Dance Into Unity founders Lana David and Elena Alexandra are striving to consistently and actively involve our community in educating and improving the lives of youth and young adults (18-30) with special needs.