How a Virtual Dance Party Continues to Encourage Comfort and Connection

My 10-month-old son has been attending We Play Center Virtual Dance Parties since he was 3 months old. Virtual Dance Parties are 15-minute daily Zoom meetings hosted by a We Play Center facilitator for young children to dance and sing along to a daily playlist. Of course, he was not dancing or singing early on, but I can now see his engagement as time progresses. I completely love that he has the opportunity to engage with children of all backgrounds and ages for 15 minutes of pure fun including song and dance. Through this experience I had an opportunity to speak with one of the parents who relied on these daily 11 am Dance Parties to get his 3-year-old daughter Nia through tough times while she was in the hospital with Acute Transverse Myelitis. In August 2020, they went to their pediatrician because Nia mentioned she was experiencing abdominal pain. The pediatrician noticed a bulge in her stomach and immediately sent her to the ER. They were told because of the virus that she may be a paraplegic and would not be able to walk again.

Dr. Bantu and Tyra Gross are the wonderful parents of Nia (3 yrs.), Amari (5 yrs.), and Kalel (8 mth.). All three of his children have been attending the Virtual Dance Party since the Summer of 2020. They moved to New Orleans because Dr. Bantu always wanted to come back home and was encouraged by being a part of adding value to the city. Dr. Bantu leads Fathers Matter NOLA an incredible organization that is rewriting the narrative of “deadbeat dad.”

It was interesting to connect with a dad and to hear how his children appreciate attending We Play Center Virtual Dance Parties. After engaging with Dr. Gross, I wanted to hear more about his children and specifically about Nia. I was interested in learning how she was away from her everyday routine but found joy in attending the dance parties.

Also, I wanted to hear more about his family’s experience. I asked if he would be open to discuss how and why he was encouraged to facilitate his children to attend We Dance Play Virtual Parties.

What encouraged you to continue the We Play Dance Party during her hospital stay?

The Grosses both have PHDs, Dr. Bantu Gross’s Ph.D. is in recreation and leisure studies. He understands the mental health aspects of participating in activities such as We Play Dance Parties. He considers them as an opportunity for his children to interact with kids on a virtual playground and to diversify their daily activities.

Did you run into any challenges, such as technology to continue the Dance Party while in the hospital with Nia?

He did not run into any challenges, staff supported, pretty easy to navigate. He set up his laptop while Nia enjoyed singing along.

Was Nia able to stay engaged the entire dance party?

She was engaged, for the most part, there was an adjustment of getting familiar with the other children. Once she warmed up, she seemed to love it.

How did you hear about We Play Center?

He attended an Urban League virtual school fest. He started to attend because of the pandemic, virtual made it more convenient.

What do you appreciate most about the We Play Dance Party?

Just kids getting together and having fun. It is an environment that is relaxing, safe, and carefree. You can participate no matter what state you are in. “It is a happy time for my children to enjoy themselves.”

How has the We Play Center added value to you and your family’s life?

It has added value because it is a healthy outlet and playground. He enjoys the opportunity to connect with other parents. It is a safe place for kids in a welcoming environment. It was really helpful for Nia to attend while she was in the hospital.

During the pandemic how has the We Play Center contributed to your overall family’s joy?

It showed their family that you can play virtually. Gave their kids exposure to interacting in a new way. Virtual parties were no longer foreign and acted as a stepping stone to virtual and technical comfort.

It is always great to connect with families even if not in person, building bonds and relationships virtually are important. I was happy to connect with another parent and to learn more about his family. Understanding community and joy is important now more than ever. It is great to know that the not-so-obvious use of virtual dance and song has created connection and comfort.

You may be wondering, how is Nia doing? Nia began to regain mobility and she is fully walking on her own. Her dad takes her to the track and she is regaining her ability to run. She hopes to be a track star one day.

I hope to see your Little One(s) at the next Virtual Dance Party.

If you are interested in attending the We Play Center Virtual Dance Parties, click here. If you want to know more about Dr. Gross’ Fathers Matter NOLA, click here.

Nia Avery is a New Orleans based Fine Art Consultant for Heather James Fine Art. Prior to joining Heather James Fine Art in 2017, Nia was an art consultant in Beijing, China, where she oversaw the inaugural C!Talk initiative, a series of cross-cultural events sponsored by the World Culture Open organization. She also previously served as an art consultant in Houston where she co-led the Emancipation Economic Development Council workgroup for the art non-profit Project Row House. Nia received her Bachelor of Science from Clark Atlanta University. Before relocating to New Orleans, she served on the board of Loma Linda Hospital’s “Big Hearts for Little Hearts Guild” in Indio, California, and was a member of Desert AIDS Project’s “Partners for Life” committee in Palm Springs, California. “New Orleans is my hometown, so I am thrilled to be back. As a gastronome and fine art consultant, I have found that this city is the perfect fit – and because New Orleans is a city focused on tourism, there are always opportunities to meet people from all over the world. Living here presents an exciting opportunity to contribute to the cultural landscape. My favorite place in the city has yet to be discovered. From 1000 Figs, to Original Thought, to the McKenna Museum, there is always something to discover and experience. I am excited to discover many new favorites for years to come.”


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