From the pocket of his jeans, he pulled a stack of pictures of Beyoncé, carefully unfolded them, and placed them on the table for everyone to see. Then, Adebiyi Adekola opened his flannel shirt to reveal the Beyoncé T-shirt underneath. He was on his way to request a song — Beyoncé, of course — when DJ John Thorp beat him to the punch.
As “Put a Ring on It” blared from the speakers, Adekola flashed Thorp a smile, then cut loose on the dance floor at Banquets of Minnesota in Fridley.
Adekola is one of the many regulars at Our Dance Place, a nonprofit that provides get-togethers for people with special needs. On a recent weeknight, he shared the dance floor with people in their late teens to middle age, who grooved in high heels and Crocs, walkers and wheelchairs.
Those who have trouble speaking were just as welcome as those who have trouble walking. Avid dancers and belt-it-out singers mingled with a few quiet types, who nodded to the music but didn’t get up to dance. Caretakers and parents were in attendance, too. The festive mood was just right for the people with physical and developmental difficulties who came to dance, mingle and enjoy a couple of hours of unstructured fun in a supportive environment.
“The world can be a cruel place,” said Helen Jorgensen, a part-time caretaker. “This is one of those few places individuals can feel safe and socialize.”
John Thorp and Michael Wines created Our Dance Place last February, starting with Monday nights in Fridley. Within months, they added dances in Blaine on Tuesdays and Forest Lake on Wednesdays.
“We entertain about 800 people a week,” said Wines, an interior designer and retired paraprofessional for special-needs students.
While there are state-funded programs to help disabled people find jobs and housing, there is little funding and few organizations to cater to their social needs.
“We have this premium in our society. Academics for kids, and productivity for adults,” said Christopher Watson, a research associate at the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development. “Emotional development maybe takes a back seat.”
That’s why Wines and Thorp, a longtime musician and retired VA nurse, created the dancing get-togethers.
“They’re lonely,” Thorp said of the disabled people they serve. “You see them in Wal-Mart, pushing a cart, looking at things. Doing nothing. They don’t have a place where they can be secure and have fun.”
Dinner and a dance
On a recent night at Our Dance Place, the crowd seemed to be having nothing but fun.
Thorp was in fine form, as well, displaying his almost encyclopedic knowledge of tunes. The man, though almost 70, knew his covers, his rap, his country, his R&B. When asked for a song, he’d often ask “Which version?” so he could make the right selection.
Although many of the regulars at Our Dance Place have jobs, most said that once work is over they have little or nothing to do. If they weren’t dancing, they’d be at home and alone.
“We come here every week,” said Jody Turcotte. “No other place does this. It’s like a nightclub for us.”
But it’s more than a nightclub. Our Dance Place also serves dinner, which costs $5 to $7. A ticket in is $5 flat.
Thorp and Wines said they’d rather do away with the fees, but food needs to be bought and space needs to be rented, they said.
In Fridley and Blaine, Banquets of Minnesota rents a large hall to Our Dance Place for 80 percent off the usual cost, said Leslie Bellamy, a co-owner of Banquets. She’s happy to be able to do it.
“Money doesn’t matter,” she said, “as long as they can get here and shake their booties.”
Barry Lytton is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.