Have you ever had a dream; a dream you gave up because you thought it was unattainable?

Luca “Lazylegz” Patuelli had a dream. He was going to be a professional dancer, and he was not going to let his disability get in the way of this dream. Born with arthrogryposis, a congenital anomaly that affects his body’s muscle strength, he’s been getting around on crutches since he was a kid. A friend introduced him to breakdancing when he was fifteen and he decided to invest time and energy into that. He later founded ILL-Abilities, an international dancing crew composed of disabled dancers. Patuelli also became a motivational speaker to show people that physical or intellectual limitations should not dictate who you are.

During a motivational conference he was giving at McGill a few years ago, he met Melissa Emblin, an ergotherapist and professional dancer. His now wife shared with him this project idea she had about giving disabled people an opportunity to attain their dreams. Along the way, the couple met Marie-Élaine Patenaude, a special education teacher and also a professional dancer who had a similar idea. Patenaude’s brother suffers from muscular dystrophy, and seeing what good it did him to interact with other people in social settings, she decided to jump into the project with them.

“A few years ago, when I started teaching dance, I realized that there weren’t any specialized classes designed for disabled people, so we started looking into a dance class project that would include anyone”, explained Patuelli, spokesperson for Projet RAD.

RAD stands for Réservé aux danseurs, reserved for dancers. That’s how Projet RAD was created in 2011, and the first classes were held in Laval at the Rebelles et Vagabonds Dance Studio in September 2012. The studio’s owner, Eric Zig Martel, was instrumental in the starting of this great project and his studio was the first certified RAD studio. The three choreographers want to share the message that everything is possible and that everyone can dance. Their motto is: No excuses, no limits.

The organization’s mission is to give people with any kind of disability, ages 3 to 35, a chance to partake in urban dance classes in an inclusive environment of acceptance and support. “We look for movements in the energy that each dancer has, regardless of the disability,” Eric added. Last winter, they also offered classes for adults. Each class is adapted to the students according to their needs and to what they like. For the younger students, two teachers are assigned for every eight pupils, and for the older ones, two instructors for a maximum of twelve, sometimes with an assistant. At the end of the 10-week session, dancers also get to participate in the year-end show of the dance school where their class is held.

Every one-hour class follows a similar pattern. Students begin with cardiovascular exercises to warm up and get in the mood of the class. Throughout the rest of the class, dancers are encouraged to work in teams to propose their own moves, to improvise, to learn and memorize choreographies. Most importantly, participants are pushed toward the exploration of their bodies and their limitations, as teachers adapt each move to the needs of each student to ensure that nobody is left out. “We get so much out of this experience ourselves,” said Emblin. “It’s impossible for us to be demotivated when we see the efforts the students put into each move and each class in order to succeed. We learn from their determination; it’s inspiring.”

Apart from inclusive dance lessons, Projet RAD also offers accessible dance school certifications, specialized dance teacher trainings, after-school programs and workshops, conferences and event animation. Projet RAD now offers classes in five accessible and adapted dance schools in and around Montreal, as well as one in Quebec City.

Their main objectives are to increase the number of accessible dance schools and the number of specialized teachers, to give the biggest number of students a chance to participate. “Dance gave me self-confidence, helped me accept my difference and be proud of myself,” said Patuelli. “What we want to do is get every dancer’s personality to transpire through their every move. For them, the smallest move makes the biggest difference.”

During the interview session I conducted, the trio ended with an experimental dance class with the students who were there. It’s so impressive to see the teachers interact with the children, even when they only just met them! The parents who were there left with a sense of trust in the teachers. You could see they were confident that their kids would evolve in an inclusive environment, would be encouraged to persevere when things got difficult, and most of all, confident that they would evolve in an environment where their difference would be celebrated rather than pointed out.

For the complete list of dance schools where Projet RAD takes place and for more information on the classes, visit their website at www.projetrad.com.