Jacqueline (Jackie) Zamora, founder of ZamDance / ZamMovement, Inc. in Gaithersburg, Maryland, is an extraordinary human being. Tremendously and uniquely gifted, she has answered the call to utilize her gifts to enrich and transform the lives of those with autism, and others with developmental challenges, through the language of movement and music.
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Jackie’s passion for dance and exercise propelled her into the elite worlds of professional dance and fitness. However, in 2013, after several providential moments, and years of special education teaching experience; and with the encouragement of a trusted friend, and only $50.00 to her name, Jackie opened the first ZamDance class. The program is an engaging and structured environment where children and adults with special needs are able to express themselves freely through dance, while also being introduced to traditional dance steps from salsa and merengue to jazz and hip-hop. The experience benefits the whole person – body, mind, and spirit; and for many, fulfills a need that traditional therapies have not been able to meet.
Participants achieve greater physical fitness; a sense of freedom that empowers them to communicate in ways that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do; experience comfortable social interaction; and gain confidence that transforms every aspect of their lives. Jenn Lynn, the mother of Jake, one of Jackie’s students, has shared: “I know he (Jake) had fun dancing, but I also know it was so much more than that, and he felt it. He wasn't corrected, he was encouraged. He wasn't laughed at, he was applauded."
"He was part of a non-judgmental community, and he reacted to it in his own way, just like every other child in the room. What a blessing Ms. Jackie is in the lives children with intense needs.”
Del Boland, parent of Jackie’s student, David, shared how the program saved his son from a seriously spiraling physical, mental, and emotional crisis following a family move from Illinois to Maryland: “I searched for activities that I felt necessary to help give him a sense of acceptance from which he might rebuild a circle of friends and support. Luckily, we discovered ZamDance. David is settling into his new environment with routines and faces that are all familiar to him. I attribute a large part of his turnaround to the great folks at ZamDance.” Del adds, “Despite years of OT and PT, David previously demonstrated limited motion. Now, David is following many of the moves at ZamDance, and he has lost 15 pounds -- a great relief after he'd gained weight at an alarming rate following our move.”
Since starting the program, Jackie’s roster has grown from 6 students to over 200 students. Each student’s story is inspiring to Jackie. She cares deeply about her students’ personal victories, like the young man who walked into her class one day, and when it came his turn to dance in the dance circle, he started breakdancing! “This took me to another level,” said Jackie. “I had to walk away and dry my tears. I asked him if he wanted to start teaching ZamDance. He was so happy, and later became a ZamDance instructor. Today, he is running his own DJ business.”
Jackie’s personal heroes are those close to home and heart – the students, parents, and her team of phenomenal and dedicated volunteers; and people who have provided support since her mission began, like Maurice Cahn, who came up with the business name, handled trademarking, and provides invaluable business advice; and Autism Ambassadors founder, Whitney Ellenby (“the Godmother of ZamDance”), who has helped the program grow tremendously by coordinating monthly dance club events with Autism Ambassadors and ZamDance.
Word of the hugely successful ZamDance program is spreading, and in 2015, nationwide retailer Marshalls, became ZamDance’s first corporate sponsor. Long-term goals include expanding the program to other cities, bringing the experience to others in need of its benefits, and creating jobs in communities. For more information about the program, checkout their website, www.zamdance.com.
So what’s the secret to this remarkable woman’s tireless energy and profound impact on her students?
“It’s all coming from the heart,” says Ms. Jackie. “The greatest feeling in the heart is to make someone happy. I love my job!”
And therein lies the magic: Love, vision, dedication, along with the charisma and character to lead and empower others.