By:Emily Haggstrom Issue: Collaborative Women Section:Collaborator Profile
Since the time Lisza Gulyas first waltzed into a ballroom, she has been forever captivated by the emotions, sensations and happiness she experienced as her feet twirled across the dance floor. She has been dancing and teaching ballroom ever since. And although her life at the time was enveloped in heartache, solitude and struggles; Gulyas emerged not only stronger but completely transformed. Now she is looking to transform the lives of others.
With her son by her side for inspiration and support, Gulyas chiseled out a life for herself, succeeding in school and climbing the corporate ladder not only as a woman, but as a single mom. She proved her value in a cutthroat world known to men, while facing pressures most of them would never know.
Unlike most people who work to subsist despite their passion, Gulyas always kept dancing in the forefront of her mind. In 2008, Gulyas decided that she had suppressed her passion long enough and decided to make it a reality. What spawned from her dancing career was a program that would engage groups of people to feel the same emotions within them that Gulyas had experienced the first time she stepped out on the dance floor.
International Dance Foundation, the program that evolved from her vision, took shape to specifically target groups of people that Gulyas felt could really benefit from the movement of dance. She created an organizational model that would bring dance classes to, “communities that would not typically have the opportunity to learn how to dance due to their financial situation, location, physical or mental challenges.”
Whereas there are organizations that touch specific individuals within certain communities, Gulyas’ aim is to provide a model that will be replicable once the organization egresses from infancy. She is currently focused on instituting the Dancing Students and Move After School programs in Title I public schools. Gulyas’ challenge is working to access budgetary funding in a federal program that is geared towards school-wide reform and rigorous curriculum hours. These are schools that have previously cut physical education, arts and music from their set of courses and are skeptical to add them back in.
What Gulyas and others know is that music and dance set off a myriad of senses and cognitive thought that is not only helpful with development but also spurs creativity.
For children who spend most of their early years in school it simply can help to break up the monotony of their daily class regimen and encourage healthy social interaction with physical activity.
And it’s not about the ballroom part of dancing; it’s about what it has to offer. “About 10 years ago, when my son was in middle school, I saw how boys couldn’t talk to girls and girls couldn’t talk to boys. Their hormones were going crazy and they don’t know how to be themselves and also how to be respectful to the opposite sex.
I knew what ballroom dance could do. It’s got a common factor that’s used to communicate with the opposite sex. You learn a respect factor and etiquette that’s not taught in schools,” said Gulyas.
It has also become inherent that without physical education and basic arts, students are losing a fundamental part of their day where they can experience activities that keep them physically active and engaged socially with others. By instituting dance back into the curriculum Gulyas believes it can help children on various levels by promoting physical well-being and social grace while adding a sense of competitiveness where girls and boys can compete together maturely. It also helps them gain respect for themselves and others. “I’ve seen these kids completely transform in 45 minutes,” said Gulyas. “They don’t even realize it is happening and eventually they’re hand-in-hand, full of confidence and ready to ask someone else to dance.”
And while Dancing Students and Move After School are key to a successful future for the International Dance Foundation, one of Gulyas’ original programs, Dancing Seniors; is near and dear to her heart after enduring the affects that Alzheimer’s had on both of her parents. In research studies, Alzheimer’s patients who dance are more likely to recall memories due to physical activities increasing brain chemicals and encouraging nerve growth. She has introduced ballroom dance into Alzheimer’s centers but is also focused on implementing the program into any interested senior residence. “This program is targeted for seniors like Phyllis Minton, who at 94 years old, with all of her faculties, looked at me and said, ‘this has been the best day of my life’. That alone is the reason why I do this,” Gulyas said. She is confident that of all the programs and their eventual success, the Dancing Seniors program will be the one that will ultimately take off on its own. “The older generation used to go to the dance clubs all the time. It’s all about feeling good,” she said.
Ballroom dancing’s easy and fluid movements also provide physical and mental benefits for children with Down Syndrome and Autism. Children with Down’s and Autism, who participate in physical activity, have been shown to increase balance and experience stimulating effects, which in turn increase temperament. Ultimately Gulyas sees the main benefit for these kids being pure and utter happiness. New alternative forms of therapy such as dance for special needs kids are starting in cities across the country. Gulyas is confident her program can provide benefits and relief for these children while they are having fun. Aside from the therapeutic and educational values International Dance Foundation can bring to cities across the globe, it is also a conduit through which communities with lower income families can participate in dance classes they normally could not afford or wouldn’t have joined because of competing family priorities.
It also, brings citizens into their local theaters, art complexes and halls where people can congregate and bring dance back into their communities; similar to times in the 40’s and 50’s. “It can unify people culturally and bring them together at all ages. It can change how people view dance and it can become socially accepted,” Gulyas said.
And although Gulyas’ Foundation is still in its infancy, she is working tirelessly, at her own expense to see her passion get off the ground and into schools, community centers and seniors groups across the world. States such as Hawaii, California, Florida and Colorado along with individuals in Brazil and Argentina see the benefits and are working with Gulyas to tailor a program to be specific for their schools. “Right now I am still working on funding,” she said. “I’m proud just to be doing it, getting it done instead of talking about it. I hope one day people will see that it makes you feel better, that it’s fun and enjoyable.”
“Starting a non-profit organization has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done and the most time consuming thing I’ve ever done, but when it’s a passion it doesn’t seem like there’s a barrier.” So for Gulyas, with new motivation and people to reach, the pressure of heading to work each day seems just a bit more tolerable.
To find out how you can bring International Dance Foundation into your school, local community center or charity function; please contact Lisza Gulyas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emily Haggstrom has a B.A. in Journalism and Media from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She is a member of the Level One Society in Denver, Colorado and sits in on various charity committees. In an effort to impact her local community she also volunteers for Whiz Kids Tutoring, Inc. as well as Denver Health Medical Center.