Everyday People: Dance Now! creates space for inclusive social activities

For the past several years, Ben Johnson has been the DJ for Dance Now!, an organization that provides inclusive social spaces for adults with disabilities.

Johnson, as an adult with a disability, struggled to find an inclusive social space that also allowed him to share his love of music after graduating from Astoria High School in 2009. Eventually, he became a DJ and participant in a hip-hop dance class in Astoria.

Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson is the DJ for Dance Now!

During the Dance Now! social dances, he can be found playing music and at times dancing among the crowd. While he holds a love for hip-hop and hip-hop icons, such as Tupac Shakur and Lil Jon, he is open to playing any genre and takes recommendations.

The free dances for people 18 and over are held on the third Thursday of every month from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Bob Chisholm Community Center in Seaside. The next dance, which is Western themed, will be held on June 20.

Johnson, alongside his mother, Diana, his friend, Anna Rodriguez, and her mother, Merrie Young, have been hosting the dances with the hope that other adults with disabilities can form connections through music.

“It’s a really … safe place to feel included. And to find friends, new friends,” Diana Johnson said.

As of late, Ben Johnson has been getting help to create the right atmosphere for the dances. Rodriguez comes up with some of the themes and helps decorate the community center accordingly.

“(Rodriguez) is really good with decorations. She works with horses, so when we had a Western theme before she brought in a saddle and some hay,” Diana Johnson said.

Some of the upcoming dances the pair are hoping to host could have pirate, Goonies and a pajama party themes. In the future, Ben Johnson hopes to hold an Elvis Presley-themed dance, which according to him would likely be based off the late star’s 1957 movie, “Jailhouse Rock.”

When he is not on the dance floor or listening to music, Ben Johnson is active in the Special Olympics, where he participates in multiple activities, including soccer, track and field, powerlifting and swimming.

“Special Olympics pulls in some people, but not everybody does Special Olympics. So this (the dances) is just another way for people to come together and have fun,” Diana Johnson said.

In December, the organization hosted their first dance at the community center in Seaside, which was for New Year’s Eve. The event came after the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District began working with the organization and provided them with the opportunity to use the space.

Prior to the move to the community center, the pair hosted dances at churches and schools around the North Coast.

“It’s completely open to the community (and) any kind of disability. We have a lot of wheelchairs, which is tricky, but young people in wheelchairs do limbo just like everybody else,” Diana Johnson said.

“It’s just providing, not a sanctuary, but a place where people feel safe. You know, the stigma is gone and they’re among peers.”