The famous ballet company now has programs for children with cerebral palsy.
Everything started with a letter. Natalia Armoza wrote to the New York City Ballet to ask for a workshop for her 5-year-old daughter Pearl and other children with cerebral palsy. The company already offered 45-minute workshops to help children learn about ballet and have a unique experience with its ballerinas.
Natalie wanted her daughter to participate, but she didn’t want her to be stared at for her disability. So she wrote to the workshop directors: “It would mean a lot for my daughter and for children like her to be able to participate in a New York City Ballet workshop and to feel for one day that they could also become ballet dancers.”
After waiting three months, Natalia was surprised to get a letter from the ballet company that said: “We are very interested in your idea and we want to have a meeting with you and with the director of the Cerebral Paralysis Center of Columbia University to learn more and to talk about the possibilities.”
A team was assembled with several doctors, the education department of the New York City Ballet, and some orthopedists, who were able to design a program adjusted for children with disabilities. The handicap center of Columbia University sent medical assistants for each of the participants, and the ballet company had two volunteer ballerinas who were trained by professionals.
The first program was with 25 children, and the second season was in the spring of 2015 with 19 children. Starting from those programs, people from other cities have written to ask for similar workshops in their own cities.
One of the program’s goals was to get the children to feel independent and in touch with their bodies, so they were able to do the workshop without any wheelchairs, crutches, or braces — and even without the parents’ help.
The parents sat down to watch the children’s joy as they were able to move freely and dance with the professionals.
Initiatives like these make us reflect. We know that in many places, the educational system has been very effective at including children with disabilities in the school system. But their life experience goes far beyond the school day. It also extends to sports, recreation, the arts, and many other activities. And it’s not enough just to “let them participate.” We have to make the effort to find out how these children can fully live and enjoy these experiences.
Integration programs benefit people without disabilities even more, as we see in the dancers’ testimonies. The other children give them new eyes, a new perspective.
“Integration offers the opportunity to know and put into practice values that we often know about only in theory, starting with acceptance of diversity and difference,” says social inclusion activist Carmen Saavedra. Other values include:
• Realizing the effort that people with disabilities have to make every day to reach the same goals as the rest of us.
• The possibility of using tools, strategies, or ways to reach those objectives which are often different from the ones that most of us use, but that are just as valid.
• The realization that none of us is really self-sufficient and that we all need each other.
• The practice of solidarity, cooperation, and mutual help.
Let’s hope that one day, as a society, these initiatives will appear in many different scenarios. An integrated and inclusive society is a compassionate and generous society that practices solidarity … and a society like that that can bring change all over the world.