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Special Forces - No Whining

"It doesn't matter if you're autistic or if you have disabilities, you can do all things. Disabled students are smarter than non-disabled people. You don't know what they can do or not, you just have to wait and see." - MaKenna, Special Forces Dancer




The Quest dance studio is loud. REALLY loud. Speakers blast music that shake the floor, sneakers squeal as they slide across polished wood, and a dozen voices yell at the same time. It's almost impossible to do anything except become part of whatever is happening in the space graffiti-themed studio. The air is suffocating; a mixture of vibrating bass, pop music, and pure energy as Special Forces practice their routines and freestyles. Expect to leave with tinnitus, drenched in sweat, and grinning ear to ear.



Special Forces is a competitive dance team for those with special needs hosted at Quest Dance Center in Beavercreek, Ohio. I was first introduced to Special Forces through the owner and dance instructor, Richie, in late 2019. I started meeting up with the dance team during Saturday practices, and quickly became interested in what Richie and the dancers were doing. After shooting thousands of photos and hundreds of hours of video, I discovered how each dancer has a story of their own, struggles of their own, and a uniqueness about them.





It's important not to focus heavily on these dancer's various special needs. Their stories aren't about the additional obstacles they work through, but the individuals overcoming the obstacles.


Some of the team have conditions that are more easily noticed, and others might go unseen. Nevertheless, the dancers live their lives with the same exact issues as anyone else. I've listened to them complain about schoolwork, talk about how excited they are about a new album, vent about work, and discuss what movies they saw over the weekend. Some of the dancers are married, some of them are in search of love. All of them have one-of-a-kind and enjoyable personalities that light up a room.




Richie, the ever-smiling dance coach and owner of Quest Dance, is a phenomenal teacher and role model. His students love him so much that it's hard to get a word out when others are around because they all want his attention. Shouts of "Mr. Richie!" and "Hey Richie!" are echoed throughout the gym his studio lies in. He has a very welcoming, warm personality and makes sure everyone feels like they belong.

Richie began teaching dancers with special needs after of a chance encounter early on in his career, when a child with special needs stopped in front of his first studio and started dancing. Richie wanted to help him learn more about dancing, so he started researching special needs-friendly dance programs. When he had a difficult time finding any, Richie created his own.


"Having an opportunity for kids with special needs is the most important thing to me, seeing that there was none really out there." - Richie


The pandemic affected the Special Forces dance group just like many other in-person activities. As some of the dancers live with conditions that put them in a higher risk category for COVID19, Richie put a zoom meeting together every class to help socially distancing dancers participate from home. For some of them, the weekly zoom call might be one of the few times they interacted with others outside of their home.



Special Forces dance team is transforming into more than just a group of dancers; they're a growing community of kids, young adults, and parents who just want a place to be themselves and show the world they can do.


Below is a gallery of photos taken of the Special Forces from the beginning of 2020 into 2022. Prom, practices, and being themselves. Shot on a variety of film and digital cameras.





The Special Forces dancers each have an interesting story to tell, and rather than just show photos and write words on their behalf, Richie has the idea to shoot a short documentary series on the team.


We've shot a few teaser episodes interviewing some of the dancers, and started accepting donations to help fund the project as well as help Quest expand to include more services for special needs. You can find the GoFundMe link below, which contains YouTube links to the short episodes.


https://www.gofundme.com/f/special-forces-dance-documentary

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