by Steve Angeles, ABS-CBN News
Dance is in the Rivera family’s blood. Part of multiple crews, the sisters have won many international competitions, and they have had the chance to compete in many contests.
But while the sisters take their talents on the road, their hearts are with a dance movement for special needs children at home.
The Heart at Play was started by their mother, dance teacher Anna Rivera.
It started with our mom, who was trained by her sister before,” said daughter Patricia Rivera. “Although it started as a hobby, it kind of developed into something more. We have an advocacy born out of that passion.”
The program turns movement and dance into a physical and emotional therapy for developmentally disabled people of all ages.
“We use certain intervention tools that are copy-write and patented, and we fuse together the artistic elements of dance with the scientific principles of special education,” said Anna. “We marry all these aspects to create a program that can facilitate more holistic growth. More engagement and more interactive participation.
Gabby and Gelo, along with their caretakers, are among the longest tenured students of Heart at Play.
“Dati nung na umpisan Kami nakaka hirapan ako sa kanya,” said caretaker Helene Lospoc. “Ngayon nakaka sunod sya sa pa ano ngayon. Siguro naka intindian sya.”
“Si gabby, sobrang na improve si Gaby ngayon kasi gusto talaga mag dance,” said another caretaker, who goes by “Ate Tat.”
“Hindi sya maka pag imitate pero ngayon OK na sya.”
The positive work done in Philippine dance studios like this is becoming the blue print for a growing number of cultural, dance-based therapy programs in the US.
With a long track record of success, Patricia Rivera spent the past summer in New York passing on the knowledge of her family’s program.
“We’re working with over 120 persons with special needs and they’re not kids…they’re adults this time.”
The Heart at Play works with different demographics, from the wealthy to the less fortunate, making it accessible to as many people.
“Whether they’re high functioning or severe, the program is versatile enough to integrate with what’s available,” the group says.
As their students continue to succeed throughout the world, the Rivera sisters also taste other success with their mainstream teams, competing and winning in international tournaments such as World of Dance and Hip Hop International.