Dréa’s Dream: An Unfinished Dance reviewed by Kelsey Murray of The Daily Quirk!
An Uplifting Story of Triumph
Having been a dancer all of my life, I understood the impact that dance would have on a child’s emotional and physical healing. When I spoke with administrators at Memorial Sloan-Kettering cancer Center, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, I heard testimony that convinced me that Dréa’s Dream was not only helping their most fragile patients move and experience the joy of dance but it also helped them to find new ways of expressing their emotions to better cope with their illness and even manage their pain.
Dréa’s Dream An Unfinished Dance will empower parents facing the devastating news of their child’s cancer diagnosis and it will also empower parents of any child facing disabilities. In addition, it offers inspiration to dancers, who know firsthand the therapeutic value of dance as a healing modality, to nonprofit leaders, and to anyone who is looking for an inspiring story of a mother’s and daughter’s everlasting bond. For parents who have actually lost a child, this book provides a guiding light and offers help to find a reason to go on when such tragedy strikes.
Over the last several years, I have been impressed with Susan’s dedication as she spreads Dréa’s Dream to pediatric hospitals through the country. I have watched her tenaciously overcome adversity and create something positive and transformational for those in need, turning her own pain into a gift for others. When I decided to start the Open Hearts Foundation and honor those who epitomize the Open Heart philosophy of turning their own challenges into a way of helping others, I thought of Susan and her daughter Andréa.
On February 19, 2011, Susan Rizzo Vincent was one of the first four recipients of the Open Hearts Foundation Award along with Emmit and Pat Smith, Robin Roberts, and Jesse Billaueer. I am proud to have supported the Andréa Rizzo Foundation as I believe in the power of dance and applaud the difference Susan Rizzo Vincent has made by opening her heart for thousands of children to benefit.
Dréa’s Dream: An Unfinished Dance gives us an intimate look at how one parent continued to look deep within to find what is possible when faced with the seemingly impossible and in so doing, has made a difference that will impact children well into the future. Enjoy this uplifting story of triumph.
The rain and snow swirled into a blinding sheet of gray as we made the two-hour drive to New York City. Tim and I had left our Connecticut home at 8:00 a.m., squeezed ourselves into our VW bug, and headed down the thruway. The windshield wipers slapped back and forth, forming icy streaks on the glass. I alternated between keeping a watchful eye on the road and glancing back at Andréa with worry.
Our little bundle of pink, our beautiful rosy cheeked, chubby daughter, perched in her car seat, sat looking at us, wide-eyed and smiling her usual cherub smiles. Just a week before Andréa had run around the house with her friend, Molly, giddily dancing a toddler’s gyrating dance to her favorite songs as they blared from the Fisher Price record player that she dragged around like a perpetual side kick. At eighteen months, Andréa had her father’s love of music and a natural gift for rhythm. She had been dancing, giggling, and joyful.
But on that frigid February day, Andréa had a noon appointment, and the destination was unspeakable. As Tim drove, his eyes stayed riveted to the glassy highway. My mind raced to find ways to keep calm. I consoled myself with the fact that she was too young to know that she was about to enter a place from which children sometimes didn’t return. She didn’t know what cancer was, nor that she had just been diagnosed with it.
Suddenly, Andréa burst into tears, “Mom, I can’t believe I had cancer. I was one of these kids on the bulletin board. It must have been so hard for you and Dad. It was so many years ago, but I remember all of those checkups and how scared I felt every time we came back here- all those blood tests. The whole thing is still a part of me.” I pulled her close as we stepped into a small foyer, and we both let the tears fall.
I watched in awe at the effortless grace with which she engaged each of her students. She was standing in the middle of the group amid wheelchairs and an array of special seats to accommodate their disabled bodies. Singing loudly she began rhythmically moving, shaking, and pointing to each part of her body- then pointing to each of them to do the same. She’d turned their lesson into a dance. Her own joy was spilling over and the children followed right along. She seamlessly guided them from one activity to the next. Action filled the room. With affectionate hugs and tenderness she encouraged to them to try things that may have seemed overwhelming. She kept repeating that familiar refrain, “You can do it- whatever it is you want. Follow your hopes and dreams!” I saw it in her smile, in her tenderness, and in her open arms.
That life-changing knock on the door came at 5:30 a.m. on what I’d expected to be a sunny spring morning. It jolted me from the sound sleep that I had sought for months. The heavy rain had moved off the coast during the night and the dawn peeked through the bedroom window. Tim jumped up and with a grumble he rushed to the door. Still in bed, I listened to grave, hushed voices below. In a stern tone, Tim demanded I come downstairs. He sounded angry. The groggy noise in my brain shifted from annoyed belligerence to a loud confusion. I couldn’t imagine who would disturb us at this ungodly hour in the morning. Had someone stolen our car? Was there a break-in at the neighbor’s?
On one of those typically glorious early autumn days, the sun shone as I left school after a long day of teaching. I hoped my commute from Connecticut to Rhode Island would be traffic-free and leave me enough time for a quick walk on the beach. I grabbed my phone from my overloaded tote bag and proceeded out the door of Memorial School to my car. Typical messages awaited me – a dentist’s office calling to confirm an appointment, a young dancer asking how to support the Andréa Rizzo Foundation, and then the message that made my heart stop. Jane Seymour had left me a message describing a new website for her Open Hearts concept. She wanted ME to come to Los Angeles to tell my story so that it could be filmed and shared on a new website. She left her home phone number and asked if I would please return her call. With my heart now racing, I sat there in the parking lot and I dialed her number. Jane Seymour answered after the second ring. She’d been waiting for my call. As I heard her explain that the filming would have to take place on October 5th, a weekday, I felt a sinking feeling. How could I leave my seven-year-old students so early in the school year? I began explaining this to Jane when I realized that I was about to turn down a chance of a lifetime. Only another doting elementary school teacher could have understood my reluctance.I hesitated and then said, “I’ll be there.” Within 24 hours, I had made plane reservations and received instructions. I would have two minutes to say my piece, and I would have to say it all at once because the camera was going to be on me the whole time. There would be no cutaway shots.
Lessons of love, loss, hope and healing
Every parent lives with one secret nightmare- the loss of their child. In 2002, that nightmare became a reality for Susan Rizzo Vincent, when Andrea, her only child, the light of her life was killed in a senseless tragedy by a drunk driver. That could have been the end of the story but because of the indomitable spirit which Susan shared with her remarkable daughter, it was just the beginning. Instead of burying herself in her grief, Susan reached out to others in one final gift to Andrea- she would do her best to make her daughter’s dream come true. The Andrea Rizzo Foundation was born and “Drea’s Dream” is now a reality bringing hope to children everywhere.
Drea’s Dream: An Unfinished dance taps into the horror of anyone who has felt at one time insulated from all the “bad stuff out there” only to find their world shattered by unspeakable tragedy. It is a story of love and loss, of an unbreakable bond between a mother and daughter, and a vow made on the brink of despair that led to a new beginning. It is the story of Andrea Rizzo, a beautiful young woman whose passion for helping children through the joy of dance lives on in the hopes and dreams of every young child touched by the foundation started by her mother.
Susan Rizzo Vincent, invites you to join her on a remarkable journey as she shares the joys and challenges the heartbreak and the lessons she learned through the loss of her cherished daughter. It is a story you will never forget.
by Susan Rizzo Vincent
$11.86 Buy Now
5 stars A Must Read!
A must read…I wept as I read it.Touching your heart…read it in 4 hrs, November 28, 2012
By SHARON MULCAHY
I started the book at 5:00 and read nonstop until 9:15 It is a story of a Mother’s unending love beyond death and turning an extreme loss into a foundation giving new life and hope through Dance Therapy. A must read for anyone experiencing pain and loss. There is a light at the end of the tunnel!!
By gingerplum –
It is an amazing book about a wonderful daughter who was taken from this world way to early and how the mother was able to heal by continuing her daughters’ dream by starting a foundation. The book includes some very helpful suggestions for healing after the loss of a loved one.
Couldn’t put this book down, November 23, 2012 By intothemystic –
A dozen lucky friends and relatives will be receiving a wonderful book, Drea’s Dream: An Unfinished Dance, for Christmas this year. I loved it so much, I wanted the readers in my life to experience it, too. I started it after dinner one night and couldn’t go to bed until I finished it. As humans we all have trials and tribulations. Sometimes we think life will never be the same, and sometimes it’s not, but what’s inspiring about this true story is how you walk with the author through her grief and experience the good things that came from a tragedy. I felt like I was with her every step of the way. There are a lot of messages in this book – see the glass as half full, don’t drink and drive, live every day to the fullest, we all grieve differently, and rainbows … well, you will have to read the book!
By C P – S
Once I started to read this book, I couldn’t put it down. This book will touch your heart, the tears flowed as I read it,
Susan has written a wonderful book, with such love for her beautiful daughter. One thing is for sure….’Drea’s Dream’…..the dance WILL continue.
5.0 out of 5 stars Book Review, November 7, 2012
By Barbara in Wakefield, RI –
After reading this book, I had the overwhelming desire to reset my life goal to truly live each day to the fullest. The story is one of how a senseless tragedy can be both endured, and transformed into something incredibly positive. Dance on!
DQ Times interview with author Susan Rizzo Vincent
Do you think that surviving cancer instilled in Andréa a desire to help other children from the start?
Most definitely!!! Andréa was so very compassionate. Especially toward those with special needs. I do believe that that is the gift that comes from having suffered or struggled yourself. You appreciate every day and you open your heart to others in need because you recognize their pain. Andréa had a irrepressible love of life….because she knew deep inside how precious hers was.
When she was only 8 years old, the two of us began volunteering to help a family whose small child had experienced brain damage. The child had lost their coordination due to a high fever and needed round the clock “patterning” techniques to help regain some of what was lost. This was a way for Andréa (who already had a deep love for young children) to see exactly how far she herself had come. It was a concrete way for me to show her what a miracle she was. She knew she wanted to be a Special Education teacher from a relatively early age….and w hen older, she found that dance therapy was a profession that she would like to pursue as well as a way of sharing the impact that dance had on her life with the lives of others.
While in college, she requested all of her records from Memorial Sloan-Kettering and included research on neuroblastoma as well as her own journaling and poetry to do a multi-genre project on childhood cancer. She even “dragged me” back to Sloan-Kettering so that she could see the room she was in and re-visit the playroom. We both just stood there and sobbed.
Can you tell me what Andréa herself was like as a child? Did you see anything of yourself in her? What did she enjoy doing the most?
Andréa was a very loving and affectionate child….and remained that way. She loved to dance from a very young age and I can still see her in her pink leotard and tights, blonde curls bobbing as she danced at 3 years old in her first creative movement class. There was a one way wind ow for parents to peer through and it was so amazing to see her coordination come back as she skipped and spun to the music. Dance and music were her lifelong loves. She once said, “I live to dance.” I know it got her through the challenges one faces during the teenage years.
I danced as a young girl as well and had hoped to major in dance in college. A bad knee kept me from that but it was always a part of me…and then a part of her. I certainly understood her passion for dance and encouraged and supported it in anyway that I could. And of course, we went to see the Nutcracker together every year from the time she was small until her last Christmas when we went to Lincoln Center.
Can you share one special experience or moment you had with Andréa you will never forget? What was your relationship like?
Truly, we were so close that there are too many special moments to pick just one. Due to all she had been through medically, Andréa had to overcome learning disabilities. Being a teacher myself, we worked together every night of her school years so that she could achieve whatever she wanted to. She graduated college with 3 teaching certifications: Elementary Education, Early Childhood Education and Special Education. I guess I will always remember the day that she asked me to go along for the ride as she was being interviewed by the Superintendent of Schools for her first teaching position. It was a rainy day and I sat in the car finishing up a photo quilt that was a gift for her college graduation. When I looked up and saw her running toward the car through the raindrops and puddles with the hugest smile….arms and hands waving, full of papers…I knew she had gotten the job. We both cried as she had worked so long and hard to achieve her life’s goal…and it had come to be. Every minute and hour that we had spent “over the books” during her school career was all worth it in that one moment.
How did dance become so important to her? What do you think it was about dancing that so appealed to her? Did she have a mentor or someone in particular she admired in that field?
Because school was a struggle and dance came naturally, I think it just made her feel good about herself. Her dance teachers were also an inspiration and role models for her. They had the biggest impact in boosting her self confidence…which made her a better dancer and spurred her on for more.
As a teen, was Andréa involved in any dance therapy groups or with organizations involving children with cancer?
Andréa worked in an Easter Seals camp for disabled children for many summers. She also worked for Special Olympics before and during college.
There was never an opportunity to have any hands on experience with dance therapy or children with cancer. She would have liked that.
Most mothers would be so overwhelmed with grief at the loss of their only child they would be unable to think of helping anyone else. What helped you through that pain and how did the idea for the Andréa Rizzo Foundation come about? Was it a difficult process to find support?
Rabbi Kushner wrote “When Bad Things Happen to Good People. ” In it he says that “people are God’s language.” I do believe that is true. It has been the love and caring of Andréa’s friends, my friends and family that has gotten me through. It was one of Andréa’s colleagues who suggested starting the Foundation. This got me out of bed and I have not stopped since. I would not have been so presumptuous to have thought of doing this on my own and would not have known where to begin. But surrounded by Andréa’s close college friends, her colleagues, my friends and family…I found the strength to keep moving toward that goal. I should say I was driven. When someone says “let’s do this for your daughter”…..you don’t pull the covers over your head and say “I can’t.” The support has not wavered since the day we wrote our mission statement, two months after Andréa’s death.The love that pours forth is astounding. Whenever I have needed someone to lean on ….. they are there. To this day, almost seven years after her death, I still receive cards at my doorstep from friends who want me to know that they will never forget.
I believe that when you are doing something from your heart and soul, the energy that is created draws people to you and together you can make dreams come true. On Mother’s Day each year, Andréa’s college roommates send me a big bouquet of sunflowers (Andréa’s favorite) with a note that says…”Love, from all your girls.” I have been blessed.
Have you been surprised by how much the organization has grown since its inception? AMAZED!!!!
Do you find at first parents are skeptical of the idea that ‘dance’ therapy can help theirchild who is most likely in constant pain?
I think that the parents are open to anything that will distract their child from the daily monotony of the hospital routine. They are also happy to have new ways of interacting with their child while many times the entire family participates in the session. They are pleasantly surprised by the impact that dance therapy has when it comes to calming their child through painful procedures…requiring less pain medication
Ladies Home Journal 2010
by Sonia HarmonSusan Rizzo Vincent is the founder and president of the Andrea Rizzo Foundation, a non-profit organization she started after her 24-year-old daughter, Andrea, was killed by a drunk driver in 2002. Andrea was a childhood cancer survivor and special education teacher who wanted to be a dance therapist, so when Susan started the foundation, she decided it should focus on helping children with cancer and special needs. The funds also support Drea’s Dream, a dance therapy program for kids in hospitals and special education classes. Susan, who is also an elementary school teacher, has been dedicated to the growth of the foundation since its start-so much that Dancing With the Stars judge Carrie Ann Inaba signed on to be the National Celebrity Spokesperson of the Andrea Rizzo Foundation.What makes me a lady:
I am never jealous of what others have; I’m blessed to recognize and appreciate my own rewards in life.
Favorite guilty pleasure:
The beach! As an elementary school teacher there are many things I cherish about my profession; nurturing young minds and lives is an amazing job. But when the summertime comes, I’m on the beach!
Three things on my life list:
1. Finish the three books I’ve begun; a children’s book I wrote before I lost my only daughter Andréa to a drunk driver, a book she and I started about our journey as mother and daughter through cancer, and a book that reminds people how to get each other through tough times, based on my experiences with the hundreds of people who’ve helped me each and every day since my daughter’s death.
2. Create a tangible and worthy expression of gratitude that I could offer those who have helped me to go on.
3. To see Dréa’s Dream, our non-profit pediatric dance/movement therapy program (funded by The Andréa Rizzo Foundation) spread to hospitals and schools in every state.
If I could have a superpower, it would be:
To eradicate cancer.
Ladies I admire:
Jane Seymour, for her many artistic talents and for remaining dedicated to her children. She has lived the life of a celebrity but still lives for the truly important things in life. I also love Barbara Bush for taking life as it comes, with humor, compassion and common sense. Through a life that held many ups and downs (losing a baby to leukemia) that took her far and wide, she maintained dignity and remained a grandmother supreme to her many, many grandchildren.
Every mother I’ve sat with, or talked with, or received an email from whose child is suffering from cancer deserves to be recognized. I admire each and every one of them for doing everything humanly possible for their child, for as long as it takes. I stand with them and support them and offer them hope for today and courage for tomorrow.
Susan’s story on keepanopenheart.com
This is Susan’s video story published on Jane Seymour’s website for the Keep an open Heart website