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Daily Inspiration: Meet Nicole Warren

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nicole Warren.

Nicole, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I began dancing when I was five years old; I have ADHD and had low confidence and my parents felt like dance classes would be a good outlet for me to grow as a child. Fast forward to my mid 20’s, I had been dancing my entire youth life and after graduating from UCF in 2011, I chose to go back to my life passion and pursue a career in dancing. I studied dance, trained and became classically certified in ballet, was a teacher and a choreographer for various studios, performances and companies. I was completely immersed in the ‘starving artist’ lifestyle.

I was working four jobs at the time and one of them was as a Personal Care Assistant for a young man named Kirk. Kirk has severe Cerebral Palsy, he is non-verbal, he cannot move independently, all his movements are involuntary as there is a disconnect from his brain to body and to move just an inch is quite the feat for Kirk to focus and demonstrate movement abilities. Kirk is the inspiration and muse behind Chance 2 Dance; a seed was planted in my soul when he I received the feedback that he was cognitively aware of who I was onstage when he watched me perform at my first dance concert in college. He sat silently the entire performance, according to his mom Cindy, he saw me in the wings and began moving around and making auditory noises as if to let me know he saw me and knew I was about to make my ‘grand entrance.’

From then on, during my time with Kirk, we would dance to classical music, working on lifting his arm off his wheelchair and trying to tap to the beat. A few years later, I was still working many jobs, all the while trying to dance professionally, through relationship building, I was able to start working towards creating our non-profit 501(c)3, Chance 2 Dance. Chance 2 Dance is Central Florida’s only inclusive and accommodating movement arts organization. As of 2018, I designed and built out the state of Florida’s first sensory-friendly dance studio with a staff certified and qualified to work with individuals of all abilities appropriately, meeting our dancers’ needs as individuals and as a group. C2D turns five this year! We are so thrilled by the support and growth and embrace the community has had towards our very special organization, in a short amount of time, we have written inclusive books, began creating patents for accessible movement technology, have won multiple community, business, and dance awards and honors.

I also own a for-profit company; Odyssey Dance Company, which is an exclusive and elite training performance company. ODC and C2D have many collaborative opportunities where our dancers of all ages, levels, and abilities between both companies are able to learn to support and embrace one another. We try to continue to provide artistic experiences that will develop our youth to be more caring, compassionate, and accepting of all peoples. I also most recently co-founded Inclusive Impact Initiative, an LLC focused on creating inclusive environments and accommodating atmospheres for other businesses and organizations interested in creating sensory-friendly spaces for their own clients and staff. I feel honored to have the support of Orlando and Central Florida to be able to provide an outlet to the community that is meaningful and worthy of leaving a positive footprint.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
I chose to start a charity organization, a non-profit, for the special needs community as an arts organization, more specifically dance… All things severely under-supported, overlooked and underfunded. I also am a young female business owner and community leader and that has led me to experience the world of sexism and doubt from male counterparts and more often than not, people think we are ‘just’ a dance company where we step, clap and jump around for fun… No, it definitely has not been a smooth road. Funding is our biggest struggle- gaining support for those who can’t support themselves is our daily hurdle. Keeping quality, certified, appropriate staffing in place to better serve our special needs community and maintain staff retention instead of turnover and not having enough funds to support a reasonable salary/pay weighs on my heart always, as I want to ensure my team is able to be their best for all our students that we care so deeply for. Through the COVID-19 pandemic, according to national statistics: only 15% of ALL arts non-profit organizations across the country were able to stay alive and open during the height of the pandemic- I am proud to say we are apart of that statistic of keeping the arts alive in such an unstable time in history.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
Dance is a huge part of my life… If you ask me how I ‘identify’ myself professionally, I would say: First, my heart and soul is 100% an artist, then I am a dance, choreographer, teacher/mentor, then I am a community leader/businesswoman. I specialize in inclusive movement arts opportunities and as a dancer, I am classically certified in Cecchetti ballet, but I love choreographing contemporary dances the most. I am most proud that my small seedling idea of a company that solely aims to positively serve our community has grown briskly in a short amount of time and has some amazing honors in our five years: C2D was the 2019 & 2020 Dance Studio of the year. I personally have been named: Orlando Business Journal: 40 Under 40 for 2020, as well as Orlando Family Magazine: Superwoman of the Year. In 2019, I was honored at the OBJ diversity awards and won 2nd place in the Victory Cup Initiative, winning $15,000 for our non-profit. My greatest honor though, is seeing our dancers excel and succeed in their hopes and dreams, and I’m proud to be able to provide a safe space for them to do so.

Before we let you go, we’ve got to ask if you have any advice for those who are just starting out?
The best advice I can give: If you believe in yourself and your intentions are true and heartfelt, keep going. You’ll get there. Everyday is difficult- everyday has it’s own challenges… But you have to have faith in yourself first and foremost. So many people doubt and get scared when it gets difficult… That’s when you prove to yourself, you can do it.

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