Milwaukee Ballet
Press Release

Milwaukee Ballet and Children’s Hospital Launch “Tour De Force” Program

New Partnership Creates Unique Opportunities for Children with Disabilities

By - Apr 27th, 2015 03:48 pm
Valerie Harmon and Mengjun Chen with Students. Photo by Rachel Malehorn.

Valerie Harmon and Mengjun Chen with Students. Photo by Rachel Malehorn.

MILWAUKEE April 27– Milwaukee Ballet and Children’s Hospital are proud to announce their landmark program created to offer children with disabilities the chance to participate in ballet classes.

This collaboration, named Tour de Force, puts 10 of Milwaukee Ballet’s Company dancers and staff, 15 doctors and physical therapists from Children’s Hospital and Concordia University and nine beautiful little ballerinas with a variety of physical disabilities together in a ballet studio for a four-session program.

“Our goal was to create a supportive environment where the children could try ballet classes in a format that made them feel empowered rather than excluded,” said Milwaukee Ballet Director of Community Outreach Alyson Chavez.

“Spending time with the dancers also helps the children feel more at ease with a rigorous rehabilitation schedule. Professional dancers also keep a very strict, physically demanding schedule, and serve as positive role models for participants.”

In a beginning ballet class, the little dancers get the chance to stretch their muscles and minds in new ways.  The program was the brainchild of Dr. Maya Evans MD, Director of Pediatrics, Physical Medicine & Rehab at Children’s Hospital, who was searching for a way to inspire her patients to do their daily stretching. The program premiered in November with five children.

Diane Feldt, a nurse and mother of a seven-year-old daughter in the program, said, “When Anna actively flexed her knees and performed a plié, I cried tears of joy.  She ‘got’ it. Thanks to the dancers and therapists involved.  It is nothing short of amazing.”

The program includes four classes, culminating with the children and medical staff going together to watch their ‘classmates’ from Milwaukee Ballet perform in Cinderella on May 16.

In addition to Chavez, the team from Milwaukee Ballet includes head teacher Lori Flanigan, Company dancers Parker Brasser-Vos, Mengjun Chen, Jennifer Ferrigno, Susan Gartell, Alana Griffith, Valerie Harmon, Rachel Malehorn, Janel Meindersee, Barry Molina and Milwaukee Ballet II dancer Marie Varlet. Children’s Hospital’s team is lead by Dr. Maya Evans and head physical therapist Cat Lydon, and includes physical therapists Denise Bibis, Mari Branson, Lizzie Conrath, Diane Feldt, Rebecca Zabkowicz and PT students from Concordia University.

Milwaukee Ballet and Children’s Hospital are seeking additional funding for the program to ensure they are able to continue giving these most special young ballet dancers this unique experience.

People interested in supporting this and other outreach programs which empower all children to dance, may visit milwaukeeballet.org or inquire at development@milwaukeeballet.org

About Milwaukee Ballet

Milwaukee Ballet celebrates 45 years of dance this season, which will be presented through the generosity of Donna and Donald Baumgartner.  Founded in 1970, Milwaukee Ballet strives to inspire its audiences to think within and beyond traditional ballet through the presentation of quality performances and the implementation of educational opportunities. With an annual operating budget of more than $6 million, Milwaukee Ballet presents more than 30 performances to more than 40,000 people each year. Its resident company includes 24 professional dancers along with 20 trainees in the Nancy Einhorn Milwaukee Ballet II Program. Milwaukee Ballet is one of the few dance companies in the country to maintain its own orchestra.

Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy, the official school of the Ballet, has an enrollment of more than 800 students at three locations throughout Southeastern Wisconsin, and is the only professional dance school in the Midwest accredited by the National Association of Schools of Dance.

Milwaukee Ballet’s Community Outreach programs are offered year-round through hands-on workshops, original children’s productions and a student matinee series serving over 30,000 people each year.

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