Relaxed Performances at YOU dance
by Sebastiano Bazzichetto
April 1, 2019

Heather Ogden in Anna Karenina.

Since 2007, The National Ballet of Canada has sought to spark creativity in youth through YOU dance, a comprehensive Education and Outreach programme. YOU dance reaches out to youth in diverse communities in the Greater Toronto Area and across Canada with the aim to create a positive space for those who are not usually able to access dance.

YOU dance continues to pave the way for new initiatives aimed at connecting dancers and young spectators, nurturing self-expression, self-discovery and communication through movement. For the past five years, the National Ballet has offered relaxed performances of YOU dance for individuals with a large spectrum of special needs such as developmental challenges, autism and serious illnesses, along with their families, both within a theatre setting and onsite at organizations such as The Hospital for Sick Children and Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.

At these performances, the lights remain undimmed, music sound levels are reduced and the children are encouraged to interact with dancers onstage, ask questions and fully experience of the joy of live performance.

Over 250 attendees participated at a relaxed performance of YOU dance in September 2018 at the Betty Oliphant Theatre. Participants were invited through a broad array of organizations including Extend a Family, The Beverly School, the Geneva Centre for Autism, Kerry’s Place, Giant Steps Toronto, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, Project Autism and DramaWay.

In addition to offering relaxed performances, YOU dance partners with organizations that specifically cater and work with special needs children, such as the Geneva Centre for Autism and the Bloorview School Authority, to provide movement workshops.

These workshops, led by YOU dance Artist Educator Annemarie Cabri, are carefully designed to target and develop the large and small motor skills while exploring creativity and self-expression through a structured conceptual approach to dance. The unique workshops are multi-sensory, involving props, textures, voice and live music.

“Our daughter loves to dance but never really enjoyed the traditionally structured dance classes offered through our community or at local dance schools. Her ability never quite matched her peers leaving her disheartened at the end of every class. YOU dance allowed her to finally be a part of a dance class and express herself through movement. It is an absolutely phenomenal programme,” says a parent whose child participated in the workshop.

A full-body experience, the relaxed workshops are designed to be immersive both physically and musically. All the children, even those with restrictive devices, are able to explore movement on their own and are encouraged to discover new tactile sensations and ways to communicate and convey their emotions, engaging their imagination as well as sensory and motor functions.

“YOU dance’s relaxed performances and workshops are powerful opportunities to not only connect with the children but to also give their parents and families the joy of seeing their children moving, creating and being emotionally stimulated. It’s extremely therapeutic for everyone involved and truly touches the soul,” says Lisa Robinson, the National Ballet’s Education and Outreach Manager.


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