Have you ever wondered about dance being the same for all? All ages, abilities, and levels? Jari Majewski Price, who taught deaf and special needs students at an elementary school, and a fellow teacher, Julia Faliano realized the importance of music and dance. They noticed that the students particularly became motivated when they incorporated these elements into the learning process. As a matter of fact, the student’s academic skills, self-confidence, motor coordination, and emotional regulation also improved.
Jari and Julia were intrigued and started looking for extracurricular outlets where the students would gain access to dance and music. Sadly, there weren’t any. This is when they came up with a solution – a dance studio dedicated to making the experience of music possible for all; including those who are deaf, hard of hearing, and/or with or without disabilities.
Feel the Beat: A Dance Studio for All
Feel the Beat (FTB), a non-profit organization, was first established in 2016 as a dance studio in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. In just three years, over 2,000 students took classes at the studio. With its bone-conduction dance floor, students can feel sound through vibrational energy that embodies the experience of music in an inclusive platform. Today, it is not only a fully inclusive dance studio but is also an organization that offers barrier-breaking mobile flooring options.
During their research about the program, Jari and Julia observed how deaf and hard-of-hearing students were drawn to the sensation of touching a speaker. Therefore, they knew that the program must have a tactile element along with teachers who could communicate in sign language.
Presently, in order to reach more members of such communities, Feel the Beat has made portable floors that are available for facilities across the nation. Furthermore, Jari has built partnerships with existing organizations in the Denver Metro area in an effort to expand its services and facilities. She has also implemented vibrotactile flooring into the Charles Whitlock Recreation Center in Lakewood, Brewability in Englewood, the Autism Store’s Sensory Bus, and is working on installations in Easter Seals, and the Denver Arts & Venues, among others.
Through their collaboration with FTB, the organizations will revolutionize access to music, performance, arts education, and fitness worldwide. Not to mention, these facilities will become more accessible and increase their diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
The Science Behind FTB
A 501c3 nonprofit organization, Feel the Beat literally focuses on students feeling the beat – the reverberating floor allows them to feel sound through vibrational energy. Jari explains that FTB delivers, “sound-accessible opportunities through the use of one-of-a-kind bone conduction floors that feature pliable material and transducers that transform music elements and auditory signals into tactile vibration.”
She further adds, “FTB also integrates a customized curriculum and a multilingual approach that features American Sign Language, which helps to remove barriers and connects students from all backgrounds, making our program accessible to everyone.”
Nonetheless, FTB does not only serve students with hearing differences, they also work with students who have cerebral palsy, memory deficits, autism spectrum disorder, speech and language disorders, and several other motor and cognitive delays. The best part is that because of these classes, these students have shown measurable growth over short periods that was noticed by FTB’s staff, parents, and the educational staff members who work with the students in their schools.
Jari says, “Recognizing the impact that our floor has, we developed and patented a portable tactile floor so that studios, music venues, and other facilities both in Colorado and all across the country could create sound-accessible and inclusive environments for their Deaf, Hard-of-Hearing, and disability communities.” Consequently, a number of inquiries have been received by FTB from organizations nationally expressing interest in securing floors for their facilities.
The Extraordinary Curriculum & Environment of FTB
Individuals who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing (DHOH) and/or living with a disability have been historically marginalized within the arts community. Jari explains that at Feel the Beat, “Vibrotactile flooring combined with a specialized curriculum, including American Sign Language (ASL) and other visual and tactile cues allow participants to experience instrumentals, the music’s beat, and musical dynamics through physical sensation while receiving dance instruction.”
FTB offers customized dance classes in a range of genres and supports body control along with self-confidence, multitasking, balance, and awareness. The key motive is to empower students of all ages and abilities to feel, connect with, and interpret dance and music. Through such programs, the organization is delivering instruction that improves body awareness, muscle strength, coordination, and brain-to-body connection.
Feel the Beat is not only augmenting the representation of individuals with disabilities within the arts community but it is also disrupting stereotypes and sharing all that is possible through inclusive arts programming. Further, it is expanding community awareness and creating opportunities for individuals who are DHOH and/or living with a disability to access dance and music instruction. Hence, it also responds to the communities’ desire for accessible arts programming.
When students of such communities do not see themselves represented throughout the arts community, they do not believe those spaces exist for them. This is where FTB steps in – its programming empowers them. In the words of Jari, FTB “serves as a form of advocacy, highlighting the importance of accessibility in public spaces to encourage a more inclusive society.”
Cultural Responsiveness of FTB
Feel the Beat is not just about inclusion for their students – it is also focused on making its services culturally responsive. Hence, FTB is informed by its staff, board, and the community it serves. Jari explains that “of the board, 18% identify as DHOH, 45% identify as living with a disability, 72% have lived experience within a family or have worked with individuals who are DHOH and/or living with a disability, 18% identify as BIPOC, 10% identify as low income, and 27% identify as LGBTQIA+.”
Additionally, one assistant and two dance instructors live with a disability as do several of FTB’s volunteers. They are role models for students to showcase what can be achieved with the space of arts and beyond. As a matter of fact, 48 percent of students at Feel the Beat are DHOH and 75 percent live with a disability.
FTB also has a DEI Committee, which stands for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. It consists of a staff and a board that meets twice every month. What’s more, the organization is presently working with the City and County of Denver on a Language Access Plan, and recently, FTB added accessibility features to its website to make it fully accessible for all.
“FTB believes that to remain culturally responsive, our practices must continue to evolve to reflect the expressed needs of the community we serve,” says Jari.
Outside Feel the Beat
Apart from investing her time, energy, and love in Feel the Beat, Jari creates and maintains relationships with the business community, both locally and nationally. She recruits corporate sponsors for various events and actively solicits donations to keep the organization functioning and to offer class scholarships to students who have a financial need. In fact, Jari works with several individuals, ranging from outreach coordinators to CEOs, at several companies.
As a result, Feel the Beat got nearly $300,500 in grants alone over the last year. This includes a donation from the Jason Mraz Foundation, a sizable donation from the Genesis Foundation and has had endorsement from numerous public figures like Ashton Kutcher, Alan Bernstein, and Dancing with the Star’s Val Chmerkovskiy and Jenna Johnson.
The Founder and CEO of the company, Jari likes to build relationships with corporate leaders and personally invites them over a visit to the studio. They then experience the vibrational floor or participate in a dance class.
Other than this, Jari is also a member of the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts, the Englewood Chamber of Commerce and often visits with local companies to talk about FTB, its mission, and the impact the program has on the deaf, hard of hearing, and special needs communities. She maintains outstanding relations with other service-based and non-profit organizations.
Some of the partners include the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind, Easter Seals, Phamaly, Rocky Mountain Deaf School, Developmental Pathways, Access Gallery, Megan’s Place, Rocky Mountain MS Center & Guided by Humanity among others. Through such partnerships, Feel the Beat provides therapeutic recreation, after-school programs, field trips, toddler movement education, music access, sensory input, and accessible design consultations.
FTB’s Depth of Experience & Instructors
FTB’s founders as well as instructors have a wide range of skills, experience, and expertise. As previously stated, the organization was born out of Jari’s passion for the arts along with that for engaging, advocating, and creating opportunities with and for individuals who are DHOH and/or living with a disability. Initially, she attended school with children who were DHOH. Her realization of their lack of inclusion in arts programs resulted in her specialization.
She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theater with a concentration on Communication Disorders and ASL from Pace University as well as master’s degrees in Deaf Education and Early Childhood Education from Columbia University.
Julia Faliano, Co-Founder/Vice President of FTB, is a teacher who works with students who are DHOH, and a certified children’s yoga instructor. Julia has a Bachelor of Arts in Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences and an Elementary Teaching License from the University of Colorado. Further, she has a Master of Arts in Deaf Education from the University of Northern Colorado.
Present instructors at FTB are not only passionate about teaching dance but also wish to work with individuals who are DHOH and/or living with a disability. In fact, the FTB team comprises Occupational Therapists, Deaf Educators, Special Educators, Occupational Therapists, Disability Advocates, teachers proficient in Sign Language, Early Childhood Specialists, Trained yoga instructors, and dance professionals.
In order to install the tactile flooring, the organization employs a highly skilled and trained team of contractors, including architects, electric and mechanical engineers, sound engineers, and hardwood flooring experts.
What Makes Feel the Beat Special?
To begin with, there weren’t any dance studios for individuals who are DHOH and/or living with a disability, which makes Feel the Beat extraordinary. Besides, dance presents storytelling through movement, which is the way in which these people communicate with the world. Hence, students learn to express their feelings and better respond to their peers, strengthening bonds and creating connections.
Jari states, “High-level coordination challenges students to complete a range of body movements, strengthening their processing skills through repetition. Learning choreography improves memory skills, creates accountability, and encourages leadership.” Furthermore, body regulation practices allow students to learn to breathe through and connect with their emotions. This is a great coping mechanism for dealing with anxiety and stress as well. And finally, these skills are transferable to employment and academic settings.
To make sure that the services provided by Feel the Beat are effective, it analyzes dance class attendance and administers student, partner, teacher, and parent/caregiver surveys. Jari tells us, “FTB relies on survey responses to determine which accessibility features are worthwhile, identifying areas for growth and expansion, and learning how students grow in physical, mental, social, and emotional health.”
Over the period, FTB staff and teachers assess evaluative measures and results to set future goals. In order to do so, it carries out student evaluations every week and conducts quarterly program-wide evaluations, inputting collected data into its evaluation spreadsheet every quarter.
The Expansion of FTB
Taking into consideration the impact Feel the Beat has had on the lives of thousands of people, the organization is working on expanding. Initially, it will expand on a local level, which includes more facilities across Colorado. Subsequently, FTB will open a partnership facility in New York City. Jari tells, “Future endeavors include building FTB spaces in DC, Boston, Seattle, and CA.” FTB eventually plans to open a facility in New York to scale up its program, company, as well as vision.
Additional goals of Feel the Beat involve “honing in on mass production of the vibrotactile mobile floor product and expanding that company across the nation, partnering with our first facility in New York to bring our vibrational floor and accessible program, expanding our professional team and further our impact, and bring our accessible floor to a New York music and dance festival and music venue,” explains Jari.
Description of the Company: Feel the Beat is a non-profit organization with a fully inclusive dance studio and a barrier-breaking mobile flooring option dedicated to making the experience of music possible for all including those who are deaf, hard of hearing, and/or with or without disabilities.
Company Name: Feel the Beat
Founding Year: 2016
Office Locations: Studio Location: 1555 Dover St Lakewood; Mailing: 3330 S Broadway, Englewood CO
Official Website of the Company: www.feelthebeat.dance
Name of the Featured Leader: Jari Majewski Price
Designation of the Leader: Founder, CEO