PORTLAND -- The Crystal Ballroom in downtown Portland came alive Friday morning with a rocking dance party, thrown for an estimated 700 kids with special needs.
“I love the Crystal Ballroom. It’s my favorite place on earth," said a 16-year-old named Rachel as she stood at the edge of the dance floor.
The dance is called “Earthstock”. It started 20 years ago after Madison High school student Joseph Janson complained that he could not get to the high school dances. Janson was confined to a wheelchair.
Tony Nitz worked at the school with Janson and decided to do something about that. He created a dance where no one would judge Janson or anyone else with special needs.
“A lot of times, unfortunately, they don’t have that at a regular dance. They're teased or made fun of," Nitz said. "There's nothing like that here. These guys just have a wonderful opportunity to go out and have a blast."
The first gathering attracted 60 students. Now they arrive by the bus load. Some have come here for years. Others are new.
“Its awesome! I didn’t think it would be like this," said Tiana Jordan as she paused from dancing. "I got my pic taken, got my hair done. I love this!"
The Crystal Ballroom features a special dance floor that flexes as dancers jump and move. “Really bouncy and it makes you want to jump,” said Alexa Crosby. “A roller coaster," said Emily Wilson.
But few dancers likely appreciate the sensation of the floor more than Hillary, one of several students in wheel chairs. Hillary suffered a stroke at the age of 10. Karin Hamilton helped her navigate the floor, pushing and pulling her wheelchair to help her feel the music and the movement.
“She loves the activity and this is the best dance floor," Hamilton said. "Thank you McMenamins. The bounce makes it really fun for her."
And it’s obviously fun for many others too. The chance to move, to dance, to follow their own unique beat makes this special needs dance, very special indeed.