We had the good fortune of connecting with Annie Griffith and Sari Anna Thomas and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Annie and Sari Anna, let’s start by talking about what inspires you?
I’m inspired by so many people each and every day – some close to me and some I don’t know. One of the groups of people I’m most inspired by are our Down For Dance (DFD) instructors. We have 4 incredibly gifted and talented women who teach our classes with such heart and passion every single week. It is truly a gift to witness their level of love and commitment to our program.
I have a brother with Down syndrome, so I’ve always been closely connected to the DS community and that is what brings me to this work. I don’t know that I would be connected to the Down syndrome community or doing this type of work if I didn’t have that close personal relationship to individuals with disabilities. Our instructors have the biggest hearts, are so passionate about what they do, and they all do this because they love to do it, which I find so beautiful as a sibling of someone with a disability. People like that are so rare and have such a gift and I’m blessed that get to work alongside all 4 of them.
I also love when our students challenge themselves to try something new and are so proud of their accomplishments. Our students are capable of so much and our instructors do the most amazing job at cultivating trust within the students to believe they can do something and actually try it and be successful. It is so beautiful to witness their excitement and pride after an accomplishment.
I’m also inspired by great and fearless leaders who continue to create and make the world better and better and those that serve others and their communities. As a co-founder and Executive Director of a small nonprofit, I’m inspired by other small nonprofit founders and directors. The time, love and energy it takes to run something like this (usually with such a limited budget) can be challenging and I look up to and commend those that are doing just that.
Sari Anna Thomas:
I am inspired by nature, music, dance, yoga, art & the artists behind the work, grace, humility and great leaders. I am also inspired by people who are fearlessly willing to try something new — or try something challenging — or courageously lead with their heart.
Ultimately I am inspired by things that make me FEEL. And for me, feelings inspire movement. Whether it moves my body, my heart, or shifts my mind in an unexpected way — movement is my innate response to inspiration.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
At Down For Dance, we pride ourselves on high quality programming for our students which differentiates us from many other programs out there. There is structure coupled with encouragement, love and respect in all of our classes. Our instructors do an amazing job setting the bar high for our students, never lowering it and our classes mirror a typical dance class.
And we allow all our students the space to learn in a way that works for them. We have students that are 7 years old in classes with students in their 50s and our classes are designed so that each of our students can learn and be successful.
Sari Anna Thomas:
I am a dancer and yogi, and am most passionate about using movement as a form of healing. I teach yoga at a treatment center for women recovering from addiction. I am also artistic director & an instructor @ Down For Dance (DFD) — which is a dance & arts program for individuals with Down syndrome. Dance has countless therapeutic benefits and so this work really does allow all my passions to come out and play.
I get most excited about a couple of things when it comes to my job. First I should mention that one of the things I love the most about DFD is that we offer space for ALL students to approach class in the way that works best for them, and so ultimately we get to create individualized plans that offer the kind of support needed to FLY. I absolutely love learning about each dancer’s process, and what a gift it is to be witness to their transformations. Everyone has their own timing, and if you are patient, 10 out of 10 times our dancers progress and continue to raise their own bar far beyond their own expectations.
The feedback we often receive from parents are things like “they are doing so much” or “I can’t believe how much they are moving”. These dancers get all the credit. They are the ones doing the work. They are the ones changing the narrative about what IS possible, as they continue to show the world the undeniable value in ALL abilities. Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are so many people that have helped get me to where I am today. I would say first and foremost I would like to shoutout my family – my parents, my siblings and my husband have all played a crucial role in my success. My dad is an entrepreneur and I learned so much about starting and running a business from him. I have a brother with Down syndrome and I don’t think I would have been as closely connected to the Down syndrome community or doing this work had I not grown up with him. My mom helped pave the way for our local Down syndrome community for the past 35+ years. I’ve learned so much from her about inclusion and creating opportunities for individuals with DS. And my husband is always so supportive and encouraging of everything I do. He has played a crucial role in the development, growth and success of Down For Dance behind the scenes.
I also want to give the biggest shoutout to my co-founder and co-director, Sari Anna Thomas. I absolutely wouldn’t have started this organization without her by my side. She has so much experience working as a dancer, choreographer and director in the dance community and has the biggest heart for working with this community.
Lastly, I want to recognize those in the Down syndrome and disability communities that have been tirelessly advocating for those with disabilities. Because of my brother, I am personally so grateful. They have changed ideas of what is possible and have paved the way for opportunities for him and for organizations like Down For Dance. I loved to dance growing up and I never came across any programs like this for my brother and others in the DS or disability community.
Sari Anna Thomas:
There are so many that have helped along the way, but my first shoutout must go to Hope Wills — the woman who nudged me towards the work I do today. A heartfelt shoutout to my co-director, Annie Griffith, who is on this beautiful ride with me. I am truly grateful for her presence in my life and it is an honor to work alongside her. Last but not least — a BIG shoutout to all our students @ Down For Dance! Working with them breathes much inspiration into my life, and they will always have a big influence in how my work continues to evolve.
D. Park Photography Annie Griffith Sari Anna Thomas