Little kids tend to idolize big kids, be they on the field, a cheerleading squad or a dance team. But for 5-year-old Ryleigh of Richmond, Kansas, the dream of dancing with the big kids come with an extra challenge: The kindergartener was born with Spina Bifida and uses a wheelchair.
Lucky for Ryleigh, her teacher, Laurie Tyner at Central Heights Elementary School is also the coach for the Dazzlers Dance Team at the local high school. When Ryleigh, who often sings and dances at school, mentioned she wanted to dance "with the big girls," Tyner made it happen.
"She's a ball of energy," Tyner told Dance.com. "She's always jumping up and down and has a positive attitude for everything."
When Tyner brought the idea of including Ryleigh to the dance team, she found that the high schoolers had not been exposed to someone with Spina Bifida. Tyner taught them about the condition and worked with the team dancers, who learned how to spin Ryleigh's wheelchair in choreographed moves that twirl her and keep her safe. Tyner said the team was immediately drawn to the little girl, and even involved Tyner's neighbor Delaney, who also has Spina Bifida.
"There was not a dry eye during practice," Tyner said.
There were also no dry eyes on the day of the performance, when the Dazzlers Dance Team featured Ryleigh in a halftime performance.
"The feeling in that gym could never ever be expressed again, where everyone came together for a common purpose," Tyner said. "It was amazing."
After a standing ovation that lasted well over two minutes, Tyner said the group raised almost $1,000 in just a few minutes that they would put towards a swing for Ryleigh at the school. And now that they've raised awareness, they're hoping to raise even more money so the school can buy an entire wheelchair-accessible playground.
For educator Laurie Tyner, making Ryleigh's dreams come true and showing her she is "capable of anything" was what it was all about: "Anyone can do anything they put their heart and mind to."