Sources: Philly.com – By Kevin Riordan | All Things Michael
After an hour of rocking the dance floor, Penny Warn takes a break.
“I think people with disabilities have more fun than regular people,” she says, as about 120 developmentally disabled men and women party like it’s not a frigid Thursday evening in February.
Inside Paris Caterers in Berlin Township, the heat is on. Fist-bumps, high-fives, and funky floor moves are the rule. And the hits keep on thumping, thanks to “DJ Dave” Michaels.
“It’s a fun night,” says Robin Rowand, 32, of Pittsgrove. Adds her mother, Susan: “If there was a blizzard, Robin would have to be here. . . . There’s nothing else she’d rather be doing.”
Nine times a year, the Camden County Division of Programming for People With Disabilities holds the dinner-dances. The county offers dozens of other programs for the population, including therapeutic horseback riding, bingo, and arts and crafts.
Statewide, public or private agencies generally provide such programs, says Tom Baffuto, executive director of ARC of New Jersey, adding there are about 200,000 developmentally disabled adults in the state.
“The dances are a wonderful opportunity for them to get together with their peers and have a good time,” says Camden County division director Karen Weidner, who lives in Oaklyn. “Who doesn’t like to dance?”
Rowand and Warn, who’s 51 and has her own apartment in Clementon, are longtime regulars. So are many other partygoers, who arrive with carpooling parents or staff from group homes.
“Because of programs like this, my daughter [Kim] has friends,” says Ronnie Coll, a retired waitress from Lindenwold.
“I’ve wanted my son Shawn to have his own life, separate from me,” says Atco resident Dorothy Smith, noting that Shawn is attending the dance with his girlfriend.
The crowd includes people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and beyond. One fellow sports a tux, another, a dark suit with a tie and pocket square that match his shoes.
Lots of dancers are in red, in honor of the Valentine theme.
Dinner (salad, chicken Parmesan, ice cream with chocolate sauce) is served halfway through the evening, followed by more dancing.
“It’s a way for these adults to socialize like everybody else,” says Michelle Cappello, who coordinates the dances with Judi Franchi.
Like Warn, who has a part-time job at ShopRite, some of the partygoers work and live independently. Others need assistance with simple tasks.
Some dancers twirl, or even leap, with balletic grace, while others take to the floor with rolling walkers.
“I’m having a ball!” a woman in a wheelchair exclaims.
“It’s like a family party, or a wedding reception,” says Michaels, 53, of Washington Township.
He’s been deejaying the dances for years and hands out glow-in-the-dark party favors, such as maracas, to help get things started.
“They love the Electric Slide and all the line dances,” says Michaels, who’s beloved by the crowd.
Oldies, disco, pop . . . the dancers like them all. And Michael Jackson, he says, “is still king.”
“When Michael Jackson died, I cried,” Laura Kline, 32, of Glassboro, tells me.
“We were into Michael Jackson together,” adds her friend Laura Bobco, 32, of Collingswood.
A sequence of Jackson tunes, including “Bad” and “Thriller” fills the floor.
The pure joy of people getting their groove on with friends is palpable. Seems as if everyone in the room is dancing and lip-synching.
“They dance like no one’s watching them,” says Marie Singletary, of Waterford, a businesswoman who brings her older brother to the event.
“They make you smile.”
And when Michaels cues up Pharrell Williams’ megahit “Happy,” I know exactly what she means.
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