Dance Heals: Dréa’s Dream

MSK pediatric cancer patient

MSK pediatric cancer patient Audrienne O. dances with joy.

Andréa Rizzo — known affectionately as Dréa — was by every measure an extraordinary young woman. An only child, a loving daughter, a caring and compassionate friend, a dedicated special education teacher, a gifted dancer, and a survivor of pediatric cancer, she had a glorious and productive future ahead of her.

Then tragedy cut that future terribly short: In May 2002, while on her way home from a dance performance, Dréa was killed by a drunk driver. Just 24 years old, she was attending graduate school at New York University.

Her goal was to become a dance therapist so that she could share her love of dance and the positive effects it had had in her own life with children — in particular, children with cancer and other disabilities. As a child, she herself had been treated and cured of a rare pediatric cancer called neuroblastoma at Memorial Sloan Kettering.

Keeping Drea’s Dream Alive

Dréa’s mother, Susan Rizzo Vincent — determined that her daughter’s dream would not die with her — established the Andréa Rizzo Foundation in Dréa’s memory. Through the foundation, pediatric dance therapy and expressive movement programming is available for children and young adults in hospitals, special education classrooms, and medical settings across the United States.

Among the beneficiaries of the foundation’s generosity is MSK’s Department of Pediatrics, where the Integrative Medicine Service has for more than a decade offered Dréa’s Dream dance and movement therapy, provided by registered dance and movement therapists and funded through the Andréa Rizzo Foundation. MSK was the first site to offer Drea’s Dream, and our program is the largest dance therapy program for children with cancer nationwide.

Dance therapists, trained in both dance therapy and counseling or psychotherapy, base their work on the principle that the mind and body are related and that children use their bodies to express their feelings and experiences. Dance therapy can be a form of therapeutic expression, as well as a way to manage pain or physical changes resulting from cancer treatment.

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The Gift of Dance

Dance therapy allowed my daughter to go away from what she was experiencing to somewhere more positive.
–The father of a young bone marrow transplant patient

“Dance lets you connect through mind and body in an emotional way,” says dance therapist Suzi Tortora, manager of Dréa’s Dream at MSK. “We are able to help children express themselves even without saying anything.”

“Dance therapy allowed my daughter to go away from what she was experiencing to somewhere more positive,” adds a grateful father of a young bone marrow transplant patient.

“Andréa loved life — family, friends, children, and dance — and with the determination of that family and those friends, Dréa’s Dream is being fulfilled,” says her mother. “Our therapists are giving the incredible gift of dance, and healing, to children with cancer and special needs in communities throughout our nation.”

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Read about the many support services we provide for pediatric patients.

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Great story on Drea.