Hannah Premia-Daudjee, with sisters Angie and Sharon
by Angelos Kyriakides
For Hannah Premia-Daudjee, unconditional human dignity is a driving force – her younger sister Angie has been fighting for it since birth. After noticing some serious health issues, doctors encouraged the family to terminate the pregnancy – stating that Angie may not survive birth and that if she did, life would be severely limited. Knowing that complications don’t equal the need to cut any life short, the Premia family trusted their girl into the charge of God. Angie survived, but was diagnosed with Type 1 Oral Facial Digital Syndrome, a rare genetic disease that affects the development of the mouth, digits and facial features. Other diagnoses that affect her development have also surfaced but Angie continues to overcome everyday. She’s sixteen now and Hannah’s experience with Angie has broadened the depth of her own character and given her the impetus to better others as well.
Witnessing how people with diverse abilities still work towards equal dignity and respect, inspiration emerged for Dansing Tones. A movement that strives to provide people like Angie, and others, a platform to grow and showcase their skills, building confidence and a more accepting community.
After witnessing the various programs and camps that Angie attended growing up, Hannah and her family noticed that Angie wasn’t always getting the kind of treatment they hoped for. Although thankful for all the support they received, they realized that she wasn’t being challenged. “There was rarely a goal or expectation that was required from Angie to actively participate in the activity,” says Hannah. Instead of seeing Angie as a person who was capable of growth or being pushed, she believes her sister’s disability took center stage and limited the kind of stimulation she could have otherwise received. Because of this, and the knowledge that all people are inherently worthy of being challenged – regardless of their level of capability – Hannah and her mother Helen began brainstorming for ways to create change. Since childhood, Hannah’s been a lover of dance, practicing styles that range from hip-hop and ballet to tambourine and flag dancing within church, it’s always been a joyful mode of expression for her. After an accident in 2013 that left her appreciating life more seriously and some suggestions from one of her sister’s therapists, the mother-daughter duo founded Dansing Tones in the fall of 2014.
Starting in a local Martial Arts Studio and then moving into the wheelchair accessible Premia facility, Dansing Tones has been an increasingly successful venture. They’ve now formed partnerships with the Surrey School District, worked with a number of non-profit groups and hold five private weekend classes. Despite the success, Hannah says she wrestled with the idea of beginning the group, experiencing her own Moses dilemma, “why me?” After remembering the parable of the Talents in Matthew’s gospel, she believed that God was calling her to push through the confusion: “I’ve given you the talent of dance and the exposure of working with kids like your sister, what are you going to do with it?” she believes He was saying. After agreeing to move forward, Hannah believes they’ve received a continual flow of grace and provision along the way.
Encouraging personal expression
Keeping in mind Angie’s past experiences, Dansing Tones strives to provide a person-centered approach that welcomes individuals who seek to expand their abilities and believes in encouraging individuals to find unique ways to express themselves. “We don’t see the disability first but rather our students’ strengths and capabilities and where they can go,” says Hannah. This dignity-centered approach ensures that individuals who come aren’t going to be passively looked after. Even Angie, of whom it was believed she would never walk, has been able to strengthen her core muscles and step forward for short lengths. The organization wants to inspire “maximum growth and learning,” and as part of this strategy, Hannah has created structures and rhythms that allow students a chance to lead and nurture their talents. Near the end of each class, after some warmup activities and choreography, students gather around for what has been dubbed “Fun Circle” where participants get the chance to lead the group in whatever move they like. This exercise provides an opportunity to build their confidence and leadership skills. One parent says that their child has a hard time sleeping the night before because she’s so excited for the coming class.
The joy and encouragement that transpires at Dansing Tones isn’t unilateral. Because everyone is viewed equally, learning takes place in two directions. Instead of taking things for granted and giving potential problems more than enough attention, Hannah finds herself able to appreciate life’s mercies more strongly after seeing the beauty her students possess: “to see the joy that this program brings to students, it changes your mindset, changes your perspective, I can sit here and whine about what’s going wrong with my life, or I can get up and push through these obstacles in front of me and see how God is growing and molding me for greater things.” The light that shines from her dancers helps Hannah order her priorities more properly. She says her students are “some of the sweetest and purest individuals” she knows.
That all humans carry the image of God, regardless of status or level of function, is a Christian belief that ensures the value of all people and has played an important role in the struggle for human rights throughout history. Large efforts are underway to create more inclusion within the diverse abilities community, but still a gap remains that Dansing Tones hopes to bridge. In the meantime, Hannah is enjoying dancing and learning with her students.
For more information on Dansing Tones, their website is www.dansingtones.ca, or they can be contacted via email at email@example.com. Check out their social media pages as well at www.facebook.com/dansingtones or Instagram @DansingTones.