Caring in Action: DanceOn of Naperville encourages kids to do what they love through scholarships, advocacy

Caring in Action: DanceOn of Naperville encourages kids to do what they love through scholarships, advocacy

  • DanceOn was founded in 2018 by Greg Long of Naperville after his son, Jimmy, was bullied for being part of a dance troupe. The nonprofit initially focused on giving scholarships to male dancers who had endured various forms of bullying, but has expanded to young dancers in general experiencing hardships.

    DanceOn was founded in 2018 by Greg Long of Naperville after his son, Jimmy, was bullied for being part of a dance troupe. The nonprofit initially focused on giving scholarships to male dancers who had endured various forms of bullying, but has expanded to young dancers in general experiencing hardships. Facebook

 
 
Posted1/25/2022 6:00 AM

Greg Long of Naperville is amazed at how much his family's nonprofit organization DanceOn has grown from just one T-shirt.

Back in 2018, Long's son, Jimmy, was performing as part of a dance studio troupe at an end-of-year elementary school assembly. During their performance, some kids in the audience heckled the dancers and targeted homophobic slurs at the troupe's boys.

 

Rather than rant at school administrators, Long channeled his anger in a different way. Long created a custom T-shirt to show solidarity for his son and other boys who choose dance over sports.

"I just used a term that came up in the conversation on the ride home: 'We're just going to keep dancing on,'" Long said. "I created a '#DanceOn' logo with the male symbol for the 'O' to show support for male dancers and posted the story on Facebook."

Greg and Mary Long of Naperville are the respective CEO and COO and board member of DanceOn. The nonprofit organization was founded in 2018 to encourage boys to pursue dancing and to counter bullying, but has expanded its mission to help young dancers experiencing other hardships.
Greg and Mary Long of Naperville are the respective CEO and COO and board member of DanceOn. The nonprofit organization was founded in 2018 to encourage boys to pursue dancing and to counter bullying, but has expanded its mission to help young dancers experiencing other hardships. - Courtesy of the Long Family

Long's social media story spread like wildfire, and the family had to field hundreds of requests for DanceOn-branded T-shirts, hats and sweatshirts from around the world.

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"We were on the 'Today Show' a couple of times, and in one segment (former First Lady) Michelle Obama tweeted to me about it saying that she saw the clip and supported us," Long said. "My phone blew up after that."

Rather than pocket the proceeds from so much national and international attention, Long and his wife, Mary, decided to turn DanceOn into a nonprofit. Its initial mission was to counter bullying against male dancers and to provide financial assistance when possible.

But the Longs eventually expanded DanceOn's grants to go to any young dancer facing hardships in paying for dance classes.

"We basically try to empower kids to do what they want," Long said. "We've given out over 70 scholarships in our three years."

DanceOn CEO Greg Long poses with Gracie Adamson of Naperville at Steps Dance Center in Aurora. In November 2021, Adamson became the 68th DanceOn scholarship recipient, with the funds going toward paying for her dance classes.
DanceOn CEO Greg Long poses with Gracie Adamson of Naperville at Steps Dance Center in Aurora. In November 2021, Adamson became the 68th DanceOn scholarship recipient, with the funds going toward paying for her dance classes. - Courtesy of Jennifer Adamson
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Jennifer Adamson of Naperville said her 10-year-old daughter, Gracie, recently received a DanceOn scholarship this past November to help pay for classes at Steps Dance Center in Aurora. Adamson was proud that Gracie wrote the essay application herself, and shared some excerpts from it with her daughter's permission:

"Dance is my way of being Gracie. I use dance to be me and to deal with my dad's disability," wrote Gracie Adamson, touching upon her father, Don, who has muscular dystrophy. "Going to dance helps me 'escape.' I don't want to quit dance ever! It is my happy place."

The film documentary "A Chance to DanceOn" captures the creation of a collaborative dance video with A Chance to Dance in Charlotte, North Carolina, and West Suburban Chicago dancers. The documentary debuted in November in Naperville.
The film documentary "A Chance to DanceOn" captures the creation of a collaborative dance video with A Chance to Dance in Charlotte, North Carolina, and West Suburban Chicago dancers. The documentary debuted in November in Naperville. -

DanceOn is also featured in a new film documentary called "A Chance to DanceOn" by local Emmy Award-winning film editor Richard Hemmingway, who has a history of working with Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions.

West Suburban Chicago dancers assembled by DanceOn were to collaborate on a promotional dance video by choreographer Katie Truex with A Chance to Dance based out of Charlotte, North Carolina. That East Coast studio works specifically to make dance accessible for kids and young adults with special needs.

But instead of just a short dance video, Hemmingway wanted to capture the entire process in a feature-length documentary. Since "A Chance to DanceOn" sold out its world premiere at the Naperville Palms Cinema in November, a second special screening has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 11.

"We want to take it to documentary film festivals to reach a broader audience," Long said. "If we can sell this to a production company, I can steer that money to go toward more scholarships. If people are willing to pay to watch this and audiences find value in it, that's 10 more kids who can dance who wouldn't be able to."

For information on DanceOn and any future screenings of "A Chance to DanceOn," visit danceonchicago.com.

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