Outside, it’s an ordinary Friday morning in May. But at Perkins School for the Blind, Taylor Swift is shaking it off, Whitney Houston is crooning, and the B-52s are jamming out to “Rock Lobster.” Meanwhile, more than 100 kids are jumping, twirling, and clutching microphones with a passion straight out of “American Idol.”
This is Perkins’s Friday Zoom dance party, and the energy here would rival any rock concert. Each week, the school community gathers to blow off steam before the weekend, fostering connections that matter more than ever in a socially distant world. Organized by Music Therapists Lisa Martino, Jill Buchanan, Justin Nickel and Michael Bertolami, the dance party is driven by student requests that range from Justin Timberlake to Panic! At the Disco. (Visit the full Spotify setlist here.)
Bertolami says the idea grew out of a popular event held at school, made even more poignant by the physical distance.
“We knew that our students enjoyed having opportunities to request their favorite songs and to be able to dance with and to connect with their peers in a fun, lighthearted, and motivating musical environment,” he says. Even virtually, the party “reminds us that we are still all connected and a part of a really supportive, creative, dynamic, welcoming, and fabulous school community, even though we are all physically separated from one another.”
While the music thumps, a gallery of kids let loose from near and far: in doll-filled bedrooms, in sun-streaked living rooms with siblings joining in, outside. Some dance with their eyes closed, moving their heads to the pulsating beat. Others glide across their homes with swanlike grace. Some rock out alongside their parents, everyone grabbing makeshift mics and letting the music take over.
Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” reaches its booming crescendo, and students—who weren’t even born when this classic topped the charts in 1982—lip synch as if it’s their own personal anthem: “It’s the eye of the tiger/it’s the thrill of the fight/risin’ up to the challenge of our rival,” they sing as the music roars.
There are plenty of challenges right now. But in this moment, buoyed by the universal balm of rhythm, pure joy has taken over.
Students might not be together, but their bonds are ferociously strong: Last week, the party attracted more guests than ever—112 teachers and students, at last count—each of whom dial in to greet friends and to hear their favorite upbeat hits.
As each song plays, kids can also use Zoom’s chat feature to send personalized greetings to classmates. Music therapist Lisa Martino reads these shout-outs during breaks. “Rock on, Shelby!” she says. “Great dance moves, Faith M.! Your dance party outfit is beautiful! Let’s see your moves, Bella!”
After 30 minutes, it’s time to wind down. Perkins Staffer Scott MacDowell fires off one last group missive.
“Lisa and Michael, can we do this for the rest of the day?” he asks.