It started out as typical sibling rivalry as McKenna donned the stage to the musical strands of “Animal Crackers in My Soup” in the hopes of out-dancing her older sister, Madison. Though it started as mere competition, dance has become much more than that for her. Being the second oldest of eight children, there were always opportunities to perform. Home videos shed light on the budding ballerina as she would sit the family down and give frequent living room recitals.
When McKenna was six-years-old, her younger sister, Maesy, was diagnosed with hearing loss and was soon in speech therapy. Through their time playing as little girls, and her recognition that she could simultaneously embrace and celebrate Maesy while challenging her to learn speech, something was awakened in McKenna that caused her to realize how much she loved using unconventional methods for education and therapy.
This idea was reinforced in 2008, when her baby sister Merci was diagnosed with left-side hemiplegia, a form of cerebral palsy. As Merci grew and began occupational and physical therapy sessions, McKenna was invited to shadow the therapists and to learn from them. Though not realizing it at the time, the opportunity to learn from these therapists helped prepare McKenna to begin teaching dance classes to students with special needs during her junior year of high school.
That initial class of seven has now grown to hundreds of students and volunteers and is now a non-profit organization called 2dance2dream. The organization is gearing up to celebrate its fifth anniversary in 2016 with classes held in Texas and Tennessee, and more campuses to come.
Among the organization’s mission statements, which include creating a safe and high quality dance classroom environment as well as providing fun and memorable moments, McKenna’s favorite statement encompasses the heartbeat of the program: “‘Normal’ says dance classes are only for typically developing children. ‘Normal’ says most dance studios don’t offer classes for individuals with special needs. Whether we are training teachers, providing educational resources to studios, or simply inspiring dance teachers to start their own programs, we are excited to be a part of a movement that changes what ‘normal’ says about dance and the arts.” On this note, McKenna recognizes that she’s been given the gift of dance to be used as a vehicle for change and opportunity. As she dreams about the future of the organization, McKenna hopes to one day live in a world where dance and the arts are intentionally accessible to people of all abilities in every country regardless of their differences.