Walk into any ZamDance class— whether it’s in a dance studio, gym or afterschool camp—and you’ll feel that there is something special
in the air. ZamDance program creator and leader Jackie Zamora’s energy and love for her students is palpable.
The purpose of ZamDance is “to allow children and adults with special needs to express themselves through dance in a way that builds confidence, creates empowerment, and unites a community that accepts them for who they are.” While this is a true statement, it doesn’t even begin to capture the magic that happens during the onehour session where you’ll find young people with disabilities dancing along with the Latin beats that pulse through the speakers.
Jackie Zamora, a native of the Dominican Republic who moved to the United States at the age of 10 and was raised in Brooklyn, is a dynamo. She first realized her gift for communicating with young people while working as a substitute teacher in New York City. Faced with a group of poorly behaved kids struggling with a dry subject matter, she decided to try to spice things up. She incorporated music
and dance into her lessons and the most poorly behaved kids in the school became the best-behaved kids. Her approach made the school administration take notice and an official program called “Movement Through Literature” was created. While also serving as the school’s dance instructor, Zamora worked with other teachers to incorporate movement into their lessons.
Zamora moved to this area in the early 2000s and began working with Montgomery County Public Schools and as a camp counselor with the Bender JCC of Greater Washington. Zamora has since worked with people with disabilities in a variety of capacities, and over the years ZamDance began to evolve into its current form.
Kentlands resident Nicole Gottesman takes her son Gabe to class every Saturday morning. “The first time I walked into ZamDance, I was immediately struck by an overwhelming sense of happiness,” she said. “I didn’t expect to have such a strong reaction, seeing a bunch of kids dancing. It was more than that, though. I saw a roomful of kids who have significant disabilities following along with Jackie and her staff and I could see the confidence in each of these students. There is so much love between Jackie and the kids and their parents. It felt like we were home. I couldn’t stop crying during the first few classes because I have never experienced anything like it. It has changed our lives.”
As a parent to one of Zamora’s students, I can attest to Gottesman’s take on the magic of ZamDance. There’s nothing that my daughter Rory loves more than ZamDance.
When she’s not in class, she looks up all the songs from Zamora’s playlist on YouTube, and she asked us to order her a dance party light, so she can ZamDance at home. Few teachers have been able to connect with Rory the way Jackie Zamora has. Given the faces of the other parents I see every Saturday, I suspect many other parents feel the same about Zamora’s connection with their kids.
Zamora said that she gets just as much out of the classes as her students do, that nothing can compare to the feeling of seeing a student blossom. She added, I “have created my own amusement park for my kids. It’s full of life and the greatest thing about it is that they get it. They understand me, they understand my love, and feel welcome. Seeing them follow the movements in class is what I grab and think ‘this is working so well.’”
Zamora will be celebrating the five-year anniversary of her program with a fundraiser at Botanero, 800 Pleasant Dr. in Rockville on Sunday, Sept. 30, 3 to 7 p.m. All proceeds raised will go toward supporting the program, including renting studio space and offering scholarships to kids who cannot afford to attend classes otherwise.
Anyone is welcome. If you would like to contribute, visit www.zamdance.com.