Ballet Is for Everyone
In 2019, GiGi’s Playhouse Fort Wayne was growing, and our strategic plan included pushing more into our community, after all, our mission is to change the way the world views Down syndrome, and that was not going to happen if we continued to stay within our colorful Playhouse walls. After several discussions and planning meetings with Fort Wayne Ballet‘s Director of Outreach, GiGi’s Playhouse Fort Wayne’s ballet troupe graced Fort Wayne Ballet’s The Nutcracker stage with five confident ballerinas in December 2019. Since then, GiGi’s Playhouse Fort Wayne has partnered with Fort Wayne Ballet and the Auer Academy of Fort Wayne Ballet to continue to show the community that ballet is for everyone.
Starting weekly practice in August 2023, thirteen ballerinas of all ages began their journey to The Nutcracker stage. Fort Wayne Ballet welcomed our thirteen ballerinas with open and inclusive arms. Brittany, program lead from Fort Wayne Ballet, with assistance from Playhouse volunteers, Sam and Oliva, encouraged our ballerinas to give their #BestofAll. As performance day got closer, Fort Wayne Ballet invited our baker’s dozen to a backstage tour to get used to the space and fit each individual ballerina with a costume. Our Playhouse ballerinas became even more confident after their visit and fitting. Our ballerinas felt included, accepted, and felt like ballet truly was for everyone.
On December 5, 2023, GiGi’s Playhouse Fort Wayne’s ballet troupe of thirteen incredible and empowered ballerinas took over the party scene during the AWS Foundation sponsored sensory-friendly performance of The Nutcracker. Accommodations during a sensory-friendly performance include lower sound level, low level lighting, elimination of all pyro special effects, freedom to talk and leave seats during the performance, and more. GiGi’s Playhouse Fort Wayne’s Executive Director shared, “Never in a million years would I think my 7-year-old stepson, who loves video games above all else, would sit, entranced for an entire hour during the ballet! Without the sensory-friendly performance, he would not have made it more than 5 minutes because of his fear of large, dark spaces. [The sensory-friendly performance] gave my son access to the arts and us, as parents, the ability to realize that he loves ballet.” Sensory-friendly performances make performing arts accessible to all.
The ballerinas danced with their heads held high and smiles from ear to ear. As their dance came to a close and they began to dance off the stage, the crowd erupted with clapping. The following day, ballerinas attended other programs at GiGi’s and they all raved about how the cast said hello to them and that they were so kind backstage. Melissa, a longtime The Nutcracker enthusiast, was delighted by the experience and exclaimed, “This was the best performance!” We could not agree more.