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Student with limited mobility shines on stage

May 14, 2018

Ria Mitra

Ria Mitra doesn’t let her wheelchair or limited communication dictate her interests. The 23-year-old Foothill freshman is not only enrolled in dance classes at the college -- this year, she's the spotlight performer of the Dance Department’s annual spring concert.

Ria was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder affecting muscle tone, movement and motor skills. Before coming to Foothill in the fall, Ria attended Avalon Academy, a school for students with movement disorders. At Ria’s side is Nikki Pasternak, a community integration partner assisting Ria in daily tasks in and outside of Foothill College. Ria communicates via an iPad and verbal noises, with music and movement garnering a majority of Ria’s attention.

 “She’s always loved dancing even when she was in Avalon Academy,” said Ria’s mother, Sara. “It’s very challenging for people with disabilities to really find programs that will fit them and that they will enjoy.”  

 When Ria graduated from the Avalon Academy, Sara worried where her daughter could attend college but also be engaged and included in classes and activities. After visiting multiple community colleges in the area, a friend introduced her to Foothill and its Disability Resource Center. After sitting down with a counselor from Foothill, Ria chose her first classes, which were dance and music appreciation.

 “She’s just a delight,” said dance director and educator Bubba Gong.

 Ria is the first student Gong’ has taught with limited movement. A veteran of the dance community, Gong made sure to include Ria in dance numbers, workouts and workshops.

 “Teaching Ria is inspiring,” Gong said, adding that teaching Ria made him reevaluate his teaching styles to better accommodate all students. “There’s a light in her that is so bright. You can see it in her eyes and smile that she loves coming to class.”

 And what better way to bring out that light? Ria dancing with her fellow students to music by opera great, Puccini, in a performance entitled, “Sun, Moon and Stars.”

 Ria will be one of more than 60 performers at the annual spring dance concert on June 1 at 7 p.m. in the Smithwick Theatre. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $15 for students and seniors. Tickets for the concert are available for purchase an hour before the show begins at the theatre box office.  

 For more information, contact Bubba Gong at 650.949.7354 or