Children deserve a chance. When we find a space where all children can be included, that becomes a powerful place where everyone can learn, laugh and feel connected to one another.
Dan Watt is a force! His extensive experience in film production, dance and more inspired him to become an independent producer. The ride to produce his first movie, Everybody Dance, is inspiring. This movie is going to be the must see of the year. We follow six wonderful children who happen to have disabilities. Each of these children dance at the incredible Ballet For All Kids. Over a span of ten months, Dan followed these children in their stories, achievements and daily progress. This movie is incredible. We spoke to Dan about Everybody Dance, the children he met and about inclusivity for all children.
Dan, share with us all about your dancing background and your achievements.
I started taking dance classes at 15yrs after being in the talent show in school. I was lucky to find an amazing teacher, Dee Hillier. Every year, Dee would take a few of us to NYC to take classes from the best and get a taste of what it was like in the real world. I was hooked. At 19 years old, I moved to Los Angeles to purse my career and was lucky to get into a dance company called “On Our Toes.” I was able to perform with the Joffrey Ballet in their big productions of “Romeo & Juliet”, “Taming of the Shrew” and others.
After I felt my career as a dancer was winding down, I started choreographing and teaching dance classes and was made the Head of the Musical Theatre, Dance and Drama Department at the South Bay Conservatory.
You have been a teacher and a mentor to many students over the years. Tell us about the two girls that you had once taught and how they made an impact.
I taught all levels of dance as I loved seeing young dancer’s progress. In my Jazz 1 class, I had two amazing girls who had autism. I did not know much about autism at that time so I just taught the class as I always did and realized that nothing had to be changed in my teaching style and method. I did, however, chat with Fran, the Mom, to see if there were any specifics that I was not aware of and to educate myself.
She actually told me that one of the girls had sensory sensitivities and sensitive to touch and to not worry about physically adjusting her arms etc. just continue to show her. All of the kids will pick up certain dance steps at their own pace, so I corrected every child when needed and carried on.
Did you always aspire to produce documentaries? What was your “this is your movie” moment?
I was lucky to have worked at Columbia Pictures in their film development department for 5yrs and at SYCO, Simon Cowell’s production company for 5yrs. I was always drawn to “real” stories, and I watched documentaries at home.
I decided to take the leap and become an Independent Producer and tell stories that I felt had a purpose and needed to be told. I knew I wanted to tell a story about how studying the arts could be applied to everyday life. I didn’t know quite what that story was yet until I had a dream.
The dream was about Fran and her two daughters. Now, it has been sixteen to seventeen years ago. Since I taught them and I thought, why am I dreaming about them? Luckily, I had a dream about them a few weeks later and I woke up and thought, this is God poking me saying “THIS is your movie, Daniel” so I trusted my gut and went for it.
Inclusion is integral. What is Ballet For Kids? What was it like following these young children as they prepare for recital?
I didn’t quite have the “in” for my film yet, so I got on the internet and looked for schools and conservatories that offered classes in the arts for kids with different disabilities. There are many places across the country that offer this, but some felt more like a babysitting service than an actual class. As I continued to look, I found Ballet for ALL Kids. I reached out to Bonnie; we chatted a few times and met for coffee. After she felt comfortable with me and my concept, she invited me to observe a class. After that, I knew this was my film.
Bonnie teaches a full hour of ballet. The kids were at the barre doing tondues, plies, rond de jambes and all the things I did when I took class. What is also so special about this studio is that everyone is welcome. There are kids who are atypical, have autism, cerebral palsy, down syndrome and other different disabilities but like the name of the studio says for ALL KIDS, that was the thing that made me want to tell these stories. Everyone coming together with one goal – to Dance
We love the name EVERYBODY DANCE. It is an inspirational documentary, and it is a movement. How is this documentary both educational and inspirational?
I think we need more positive stories in our world right now. There are not many outlets around that focus on uplifting people. My initial goal was to show how the dedication, commitment and determination it takes to study an art form, any art form can be applied to everyday life.
I found Bonnie and Ballet for ALL Kids and was given this amazing opportunity to explore my idea, with the stories being told by so many amazing kids and their families themselves and capture it on film. What a gift I was given! I also learned after spending 10 months with these parents and kids, its okay to ask if we are uncertain about something, go directly to the source.
ALL kids are different, and we need to find out what they need from us so we can become more aware and attuned.
What was it like documenting these young dancers and getting to know them and their families?
Here’s a moment that I cherished. it’s not in the film, unfortunately. After class one day, my cameraman and I went out to lunch with Ailieh and her mom, Jaimi.
We went to the restaurant that they went to every week – When we walked in, as every week, they were greeted with balloons & crayons by the hostess, the waitress gave everyone hugs and another waiter took us to their favorite table. Ailieh is a little angel in life, and it was amazing how the entire staff felt her joy & love and reciprocated with the same back to her. The Chef even brings out her meal every week to say hi. I am lucky to still be friends with so many of these families
Many of our readers find it difficult for studios to include all children when it comes to the arts. How can communities support all dancers?
Unfortunately, I heard that a lot from many of the kids in the film. Every school/organization has to decide for themselves how they want to approach their methods. Reflecting to when I taught and to one of my previous answers, don’t be afraid to ask questions of the parents and the child. All kids (and frankly adults) want to be included. If we approach life and do our best to not make someone feel less than, we can all make a difference. I also know that Bonnie and Ballet for ALL Kids offers accreditation classes where you can be trained in her method and given the tools she uses. Check out Ballet for All Kids.
Why is the October release date extra special ?
I decided to wait until October to release the film to coincide with Down Syndrome and Spina Bifida Awareness Month. I thought by releasing this documentary then it might help to highlight and bring awareness to the disability communities. If I’m lucky, maybe others will be educated and enlightened like I was.
Can you tell us where we can all watch EVERYBODY DANCE?
Sure. Available on VOD starting October 7th.
Here is where you can find Everybody Dance!
Thanks to Dan Watt and Everybody Dance, we as parents, guardians and community members can be proactive in making sure our public spaces are accessible to everyone. Including all people gives us all a more rich experience and opportunities to learn. Everyone deserves the right to express themselves, everyone deserves the right to just dance!