Five-year-old Mia Walters loves to twirl around the dance floor with her best buddy Maddy.
Mia and Maddy are both members of "DanceAbilities," a studio started by Mia's mom, Tess Walters. "It makes me so happy when I dance,” explains Mia, who, according to her mom, has high-functioning Asperger's Syndrome.
Tess has been a dancer her whole life and always dreamed of opening a studio, but it didn't evolve into a special-needs studio until she had kids of her own. Tess also has a son with a form of low-functioning non-verbal autism, and she wanted to create a place where Mia — and other kids — could dance at their own pace without the pressure of a traditional studio.
“Mia tried a basic movement class at a different studio and it was too overwhelming,” Tess told TODAY. In order to turn her dream into a reality, Tess started working an extra 60-70 hours per week. After years of hard work, and a handful of donations, DanceAbilities opened its doors in June, offering free programs to the special needs community.
“These children are being included, and not judged and stared at,” Tess says of her studio. “These kids are just being loved and having a great time doing it.” "We could not care less if your first position is perfect. We don’t measure success of the child based on the mainstream levels. We base it off each child.”
The studio remains a judgement-free zone, where kids make life-long connections and dance like everyone is watching.
TODAY producer Emily Goldberg contributed to this report.