NEW YORK — These little girls may not have perfected their pirouettes, but they have a grace far beyond their years. Most of the dancers here have cerebral palsy or another debilitating disease.
But when they enter Joann Ferrara's ballet studio, their casts and walkers are left at the door and they become ballerinas.
"Miss Joann," as the girls call her, is their instructor. She's a physical therapist who realized early on something not explained in any medical textbook.
"I was treating some of the children," she says, "and we would in physical therapy do activities that resemble ballet and I saw how much they loved it."
And not just the ballet moves, but things that really matter to little girls: Fairy tales, glitter, and anything pink.
Even more, they like their teacher, who celebrates every step for what it is — an accomplishment.
Ferrara pairs each ballerina with a special helper, a teenager who volunteers her time moving little arms and legs that can't move on their own.
Some of these girls used to sit on the sidelines, watching their older sisters learn to dance. But now it's parents in the wings, sneaking precious glances.
"This is the highlight of her week," says Tom Schiulaz about his daughter. "Every week she just can't wait to come to ballerina school."
"For Taylor, it opens up the world," says Taylor's mother, Bernadette Morgan.
A world where Ferrara is viewed as a real-life fairy godmother.
"As one little girl said, 'this is what I always wanted to be — a ballerina,'" says Ferrara. "And it's my dream to help make their dreams come true."
A dream that comes alive at precisely 4:45 every Thursday afternoon.
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