By Angelina Neiberger ’21, Sam Bonge ’22 and Lydia Catterall ’23

We all desire to find a group to which we can belong. B.E.S.T, which stands for Believing Everyone Should Try, is such an organization. We are a dance group here at Davidson that works with adults with cognitive and developmental disabilities. There are currently five male adults from UMAR and nine Davidson students who participate. B.E.S.T aspires to offer a community for self-expression and inclusion so that everyone can feel dignity, especially in a society that often patronizes and marginalizes those with disabilities. 

Having a disability comes with a stigma. Our community members who participate in B.E.S.T deal with barriers that come from this stigma in their day-to-day lives. For example, many individuals with cognitive and emotional disabilities are denied opportunities to join the workforce or may be excluded in educational settings. This exclusionary negative treatment can deteriorate their self-esteem. In B.E.S.T, we focus on building relationships with the members to support them as they overcome these daily adversities. Practices never jump straight into dancing––we always ensure to greet the members, hug them, and talk about their lives. Through this method, we’ve come to know the individuals that we work with on a deeper level. The adults that we work with also get to know us better, and we form friendships with one another.

One participant has a fantastic memory when it comes to music on the radio: play any Top 40 song, and he’ll call out the title and artist in an instant. Another member loves to travel, and he gave me tips when I mentioned that I would be going abroad over the summer. B.E.S.T allows us to foster and cultivate these relationships over a long period of time. We can slow down––even if just for an evening––and listen to our members, and that makes a world of difference in our group dynamics. 

In addition to providing respectable social interactions, B.E.S.T gives our members the agency to make their own decisions. At the beginning of every semester, we ask the B.E.S.T participants to choose a theme for our performance in the biannual Dance Ensemble Showcase. The members’ creativity shines through every time––our themes have ranged from an upbeat beach vibe to sneaky secret agents. The participants then decide which songs to use, and we incorporate some of their dance moves into the routine. This self-expression is an important facet of feeling a sense of importance and belonging. The adults that participate are unable to have full control over their lives, so B.E.S.T gives them control for a change. They can come up with their own ideas about moving to songs that inspire and excite them. Dancing also provides the members with much-needed stress relief, for they can momentarily forget about their problems and focus on having a good time. 

Student participants from Davidson benefit from the group meetings as well. One of the greatest takeaways from working with B.E.S.T for three years is the contagious enthusiasm with which the members move through life, and students can’t help but reciprocate their infectious attitudes. At the end of each semester, the Dance Ensemble Showcase allows us to share our participants’ hard work with the Davidson Community. The adults’ favorite part by far is getting up on stage and performing in front of the crowd. They feed off the crowd’s energy and support––one always finds a few B.E.S.T signs dispersed throughout the audience. The guys, as we call them, insist on finishing our performance by lining up and running into the crowd, giving high-fives to the front row. It is the ultimate reward for all their hard work and the greatest expression of the joy they get from B.E.S.T.

Currently, we are unable to have B.E.S.T practices due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The adults do not have access to computers that would allow them all to be socially distant from one another, so virtual practices are unable to happen. They have been cleared to come to Davidson and have practice from their coordinator, but we have to meet with our club advisor to determine whether Davidson will allow in-person practices, and if they do, what they would look like. We hope to have something worked out in the next week so that we can continue our relationship with our participants and so that our new student members can meet all the guys!

Angelina Neiberger ’21 is a Biology major and can be reached at anneiberger@davidson.edu. Sam Bonge ’22 is a Neuroscience major and can be reached at sabonge@davidson.edu. Lydia Catterall ’23 is an intended Latin American Studies Major and can be reached at lycatterall@davidson.edu.