Monday, February 11, 2013

More than Just a BLiP on the Radar

Screen Capture of BLiP dance video.
PANAMA CITY — Andrew Bouchard started Blues and Lindy in the Panhandle (BLiP) in 2010 because he wanted a place to dance in Panama City. BLiP grew into more than he ever imagined and is making plans to reach out to people who never imagined they could dance.

“Not only are people dancing, but we’ve become a tight-knit group of friends invested in each other’s lives,” he explains on a KickStarter page where BLiP is raising funds for its next stage.

They are shooting for $20,000, and they offer a number of incentives for donors. As of Wednesday, and with only 10 days remaining in the campaign, they have logged pledges totaling just over $5,100.

“We travel to exchanges together, celebrate birthdays and holidays together, and help each other out when we get in a jam,” Andrew said. “Most inspiring to me has been watching one of the first dancers to join us go from a wheelchair to dancing on her own feet. That is a gift that I never anticipated, and I want to share it with as many people as I can.”


The KickStarter campaign is to raise funds for a larger venue downtown. Currently, BLiP shares a small dance studio at CityArts Cooperative with three other groups, and Andrew said the schedule and space have become restrictive. He hopes the fundraiser will help BLiP make up the difference between the small fee they charge for admission and the cost of a dedicated dance studio.

“Even better, we’d like to do this in one of the vacant buildings in downtown Panama City and be part of revitalizing this city,” he said, adding that the vision is of “taking an abandoned 1935 department store and turning it into a community center supported by dancing but offering space to all sorts of great things.”

The second part of the project is perhaps the most inspiring: BLiP wants to develop a curriculum to teach people with disabilities to dance.

“I will never forget watching this young lady roll into one of my first lessons in a wheelchair, and watching her slowly move from getting pulled around the floor to dancing on her own feet has been a blessing beyond words,” Andrew said. “I didn’t do much other than support her efforts, but we believe that by involving professionals in the dance community and the medical community, we can teach others to do what she has figured out herself.”

The plan is to generate a series of lessons to be released for free as videos, written instructions, information on the limitations and abilities of various conditions, and anything else that might be needed.

To help keep costs low, the group is starting side businesses making dance T-shirts and hosting events. (See the T-shirt designs at the KickStarter page.)

The group also is planning a Valentine’s Ball, a semi-formal dance where BLiP members can party, show off to the community, and formally announce the results of the campaign. The event will feature men and women in vintage getups, suits and dresses, heavy hors d’oeuvres, classic and modern music, and a dance floor.

The young lady Andrew mentioned is Ashlyn McWhorter, who suffers from spina bifida. The Mayo Clinic describes spina bifida as a developmental disorder in which a portion of the neural tube fails to close properly, causing defects in the spinal cord and in the bones of the backbone.

“I always loved dancing, but I had a condition that kept me from dancing. I had surgery, so I couldn’t,” Ashley told me in January 2012. “But I found out about this group from a friend of mine at school, and she said they would be willing to try to teach me what they could, and see how far I could go with it. I’ve gotten much farther than I expected. I love it. It’s wonderful.”

(This was my Undercurrents column for PanamaCity.com and The News Herald for Friday, Feb. 8.)
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