Lifestyle & Human Interest

New York City Ballet Putting on Special Workshop for Children with Disabilities


The human body is capable of amazing things, and numerous athletic and artistic disciplines highlight the wonderful ways in which it can move. Gymnastics, yoga, running, tumbling — truly such activities highlight how we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

One of the most beautiful and challenging disciplines that showcase the human form is ballet. Dancers have a way of making the nearly impossible look effortless.

Now some ballet companies are bringing their art to a demographic that would normally never get to experience it firsthand: disabled children. Since 2014, the New York City Ballet has offered annual workshops for such kids.

CBS News reported that the program started in the simplest way possible. A mother wrote the dance troupe to see if there was anything available for her disabled child.

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There wasn’t, but the Ballet’s assistant director Meghan Gentile decided there should be. She reached out to Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky, who specializes in cerebral palsy.

Dutkowsky began to design a ballet program for physically challenged children. It was centered around “not making this a therapy session, just really giving them the experience to move in a studio with live music, with other dancers,” he said.

“Five minutes before the class, it’s total carnage. But there’s actually a method to the madness that’s going on.”

The classes are taught by actual dancers from the Big Apple, some of the most talented people in their field. The experience impacts them just as much as the children.

Dancer Ashley Laracey said, “I left my first workshop here feeling that I had to be part of these children’s lives. … I broke my fifth metatarsal on stage in a performance of ‘Firebird.’

“And I remember asking, ‘Can I still participate even though I have my boot on and I can barely walk?’ And we all talked about it and said it would be a great thing for the children to see that even I have disabilities at times, and we can all still dance and do the best we can.”

Some parents have found the workshops so valuable that they travel great distances to attend. The Quidort family drove nearly four hours so their daughter, Beatrix, who has cerebral palsy, could be a part of the ballet.

They have good reason to. 7 News Melbourne has highlighted how Deakin University has begun studying the effects of a similar program in Australia.

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“What we’re hearing from parents is it’s an improvement in their self-esteem, in their social and emotional wellbeing, and in their sense of belonging with the community,” Clinical Psychology Chair Nicole Rinehart said. “Why shouldn’t every little girl and boy get to dream about being a dancer?”

It’s more than merely dreaming, though. Programs such as these let youngsters experience something that once seemed impossible.

Iris Mehler, whose daughter Keren has quadriplegic cerebral palsy, said, “It was way too intimidating to every place that I asked about the dance programs — a, the wheelchair, b, the fact that she’s non-verbal. They couldn’t quite handle the situation.

“You see the two extremes: the people with the most profound control over their movements, the New York City Ballet dancers coming here to teach our children that (have) zero control, sometimes, over the muscles of their body. There’s something really touching about that.

“It’s really touching. I’m grateful.”

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A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine.
A graduate of Wheaton College with a degree in literature, Loren also adores language. He has served as assistant editor for Plugged In magazine and copy editor for Wildlife Photographic magazine. Most days find him crafting copy for corporate and small-business clients, but he also occasionally indulges in creative writing. His short fiction has appeared in a number of anthologies and magazines. Loren currently lives in south Florida with his wife and three children.
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