Spokane Non-Profit Dances Its Way to Better Learning and Literacy

By Jessica Simpkins, MD

It’s a beautiful thing when someone has the desire and ability to blend their mastery of one craft with a passion for making the world a better place. One mother-daughter duo has done precisely this at Inspirations (More Than a) Dance Studio, a non-profit located in Spokane, WA. Here they have blended a mastery of dance with a passion for education to serve people of all ages and abilities.

Spokane native Mikaela Orozco grew up dancing. Dance became second-nature to Mikaela, and it was never a question that she would pursue something related to dance. But along the way, she also fell in love with education and serving children of all abilities. It was from this intersection of dance and education that Inspirations Dance Studio was ultimately born.

Mikaela Orozco

Mikaela Orozco

Mikaela credits working at a summer camp one fateful year for sparking a passion for working with individuals with special needs. She realized that a person’s behavior is simply an attempt to communicate, and some of us have better tools than others to make our wants and needs known. After that summer, Mikaela was eager to learn everything she could about how children are taught in schools and what tools exist that could be used to help them learn and grow.

After graduating from high school, Mikaela went on to study dance and Speech and Hearing Sciences in Portland, OR. It was there she was first able to combine her mastery of dance with her passion for special education. In Portland, she was hired by a dance studio to program and lead classes for children with special needs.

In 2014, Mikaela moved back to Spokane to open her own non-profit dance studio with her mother, Janet Ostrander. The mother-daughter duo envisioned an all-inclusive environment where people of all ages and abilities could come to experience the joy of learning to dance in a judgment-free space. While Inspirations Dance Studio works most often with children, anyone over the age of three can attend dance classes at the studio.

Mikaela describes dance as a means to connect with our brains and enhance our motor and social skills. “We are all born moving. Movement is our very first form of learning. Our brains form new connections when we allow movement. This is true even for adults!” Mikaela notes.

Through dance classes, Inspirations Dance Studio helps people of all ages and abilities to learn to regulate their emotions, navigate social settings, and build perseverance. Instructors also sprinkle in tools for their dance students to develop a growth mindset, which allows one to bounce back from setbacks and approach new challenges with gusto.

In 2017, circumstances took Mikaela and her growing family away from Spokane and into California. She attended graduate school online at Grand Canyon University while Janet kept the dance studio alive and thriving. This was no easy feat, especially in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic! Mikaela credits her mother with keeping the studio alive and well during some of its rockiest and most unpredictable years while she was away. Mikaela returned to Spokane with her family in 2020, and Janet is now enjoying retirement and her new role as a grandmother.

While in California, Mikaela received her Masters in Special Education and began learning about dyslexia in greater detail through working at a private school called NewBridge. Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that one in five individuals face, making it challenging for them to read and spell at the same level as their peers. During her time in graduate school, Mikaela learned about evidence-based tools to help improve the way all children read and write.

“There’s a systematic way to decode and encode our language so that everyone can learn,” Mikaela notes. She explains that this teaching methodology would allow far more children to learn to read and spell proficiently and with greater ease. Mikaela has a lofty goal of changing the way reading and writing are taught across the nation so that children with dyslexia are brought along from the very beginning.

After returning to Spokane in 2020, Mikaela began offering a program called Inspirational Learners, which helps preschool children ages two through four to establish a foundation for learning. She has also been working closely with the Winston Center for Attention, Learning, & Language, where she has developed an academic program called Mindful Learners and works one-on-one with individuals with dyslexia, dysgraphia, and other language-based disorders. Her dream is for classrooms across the United States to implement this approach.

When asked about her vision for the future of Inspirations Dance Studio, Mikaela smiled and announced upcoming plans for a name change ahead of other exciting news. “We will soon be shortening our name to Inspirations,” Mikaela noted. This comes alongside a new collaboration between Inspirations Dance Studio and Courage to Grow Farms, where they plan to develop programs that are nature-based and literacy-focused.

Shortening the name from Inspirations Dance Studio to Inspirations allows a more equal emphasis on the educational programs as compared to the dance classes. This name change opens up space for future collaborations, possibilities, and direction shifts. Mikaela is excited to see how the collaboration with Courage to Grow Farms unfolds.

Of note, Inspirations Dance Studio is offering a 60% discount on gift cards for anyone interested in giving the gift of dance this holiday season. The offer is valid now through December 20th. Gift cards can be purchased on their website at www.inspirationsdancespokane.com/dance-classes. The nonprofit’s website also lists other ways to support them, through donation of specific items and goods, money, or time.