'Dance of Champions' brings people of all abilities together in Las Cruces

‘Dance of Champions’ brings people of all abilities together in Las Cruces

In the 2023 movie “Champions,” a court order requires a former minor-league basketball coach to manage a team of players with disabilities. Despite his initial hesitation, he realizes his new team is capable of achieving more than he anticipated.

The film served as a source of inspiration for Inez Hinojos, a member of The Salvation Army La Cruces (New Mexico) Corps and dedicated volunteer. Touched by the story, she wanted to create her own community of champions by providing individuals with disabilities a space to come together to dance.

“Toward the end of the movie, there’s this quote: ‘It doesn’t matter whether we win or lose, we’re all champions,’” she said. “I just thought about how true that is, and how we could do something fun for those with disabilities to show them that they are champions.”

Hinojos and corps member Julia Reyes met with La Cruces Corps Officers Captains Michael and Noel Evans to discuss how The Salvation Army could help bring their vision to life.

“They came to us with this great idea and we basically said, ‘how can we help?’” said Noel Evans, who noted that in the La Cruces community, there was an unmet need for a space that serves and celebrates those with disabilities.

'Dance of Champions' brings people of all abilities together in Las Cruces

Courtesy Captain Noel Evans and Inez Hinojos.

According to the United Disabilities Services Foundation, approximately 61 million people in the U.S. live with some form of disability. Further, many of the individuals surveyed report they have experienced exclusion from social opportunities, community participation and leisure activities.

Hinojos developed the idea of a monthly dance event, the “Dance of Champions,” where people of all ages and abilities could come together in an uplifting environment to dance the night away.

The event takes place for three hours a month at the La Cruces Downtown Plaza stage, a location that Evans helped Hinojos rent, as she had experience renting it for the corps.

“I was prepared to do whatever necessary to make this possible,” said Hinojos. “Julia and I have a drive when it comes to those with needs and we stay very involved.”

Today, The Salvation Army provides pizza, snacks and drinks to Dance of Champions participants. According to Evans, the event is gaining public attention, with the most recent dance bringing nearly 30 participants.

“There is no embarrassment or fear, and everyone has a great time,” said Evans. “We do a little bit of everything with attendees, from raffles to dance lessons.”

At the events, Hinojos DJs while Evans and corps members organize lessons for dance activities like line dancing or hula hooping so participants can learn something new.

“I wanted to find a way to make a direct impact on the community, and I didn’t know how to go about this before I got involved with The Salvation Army.” – Inez Hinojo

If someone appears shy or hesitant, they’re quick to encourage them and make them feel welcomed, said Hinojos.

For Hinojos, supporting individuals with disabilities has been a part of her life for nearly 15 years. With a step-sister living with Down syndrome, she has provided support to her and others, including through involvement with Special Olympics.

“I wanted to find a way to make a direct impact on the community, and I didn’t know how to go about this before I got involved with The Salvation Army,” said Hinojos.

Hinojos said that while volunteerism holds deep significance for her, it’s witnessing the impact on people’s lives that truly makes the difference.

“The responses have been very positive,” said Hinojos. “We’ve had a couple of families come hug, praise and thank us for putting this together for the community.”

Hinojos said her involvement with The Salvation Army has inspired her to explore various ways to volunteer through the corps, like distributing candy at a Harvest Festival or assisting families in signing up for Christmas toy giveaways.

“I just feel honored to help people,” she said. “Seeing the impact we can have on our community is just so fulfilling, and we have no plans of stopping.”

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Haley Osness

Haley Osness is a Staff Editor at Caring, where she shares inspiring stories about the impact The Salvation Army is making every day. She’s inspired by the people around her and their desire to do good, no matter the circumstances. With a passion for writing and video storytelling, she majored in Journalism, Advertising and Media Studies and achieved a certificate in Anthropology from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. When she’s not working on her next story, you’ll find her strolling the beach with her Yorkiepoo, Ollie.