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DANCING INTO DIVERSITY: Special needs casting call makes ballet accessible to all

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“The Great Wilmington Nutcracker Ballet” will be performed on December 15 and 16 at the Wilson Center.

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For centuries professional dancers have been perfecting their pirouettes, pliés and ronde de jambes for the enjoyment of the most noble audiences. Originating in the Italian Renaissance, the art of ballet has been viewed as an elite dance form for those with the perfect body and years of classical training. The Wilmington Ballet Company, partnered with the US International Ballet (USIB) and Special Olympics, are about to break the stereotype.


The typical image of a ballerina often consists of a tall and overly thin person. With it has come unhealthy body images and ideals for aspiring dancers around the world in general. The USIB celebrates diversity, and chooses dancers for their passions and talents—never on a specific look or body type. They focus on individual style and technique. The poise and training is still essential, but the health and happiness of all dancers is a central priority.

On October 26 a special-needs casting call will allow all of the special needs community to audition for a role in the Great Wilmington Nutcracker, the only local show to sell out at the Wilson Center each holiday season. Professional ballerinas from the US International Ballet and the Wilmington Ballet Company work directly with special dancers to create a heartwarming show. Auditions will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Wilmington School of Ballet (2250 -12 Shipyard Blvd.). Everyone who attends the casting call will be guaranteed a role in the production.

“We have always had an inclusion mission,” school founder Elizabeth Hester tells. “For about four or five years, we had a child who’s sister had cerebral palsy. Dance became something that helped her. Audiences were able to watch her progress because in her first show with us she came out on stage in a wheelchair and by her last she only had a walker. It was one of the highlights of my 20 year career.”

Wilmington Ballet Company is a leader in community service, partnership and inclusion as a nonprofit founded in 1999, with the purpose of developing professional-level ballet productions and involving underserved populations. Historically, their unique version of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” has included dancers from several local studios. They especially welcome arts organizations in rural communities who normally don’t have access to a large stage to help out with the show. In 2018 they are working with Southside Dance Center, Inspiration Dance Center, Brunswick School of Dance, Studio 1, Glory Academy of Fine Arts, Thalian Association Community Theatre, and Wilmington Celebration Choir.

They also partner with several local organizations, such as the Children’s Museum, Girls Scouts, Coastal Christian High School, Dreams, the public school system, and local dance studios and music organizations. They produce three full-length ballets annually at the Wilson Center, and invite over 1,000 local families to participate directly.

Honing in on their productions to being all-inclusive seemed like a natural fit. Hester reached out to Special Olympics, who were happy to collaborate and create a version of the “Nutcracker” where all parties can feel comfortable and confident. The performance will feature a select number of special dancers in a party scene, and the entire cast of special dancers in an intermission show.

“Not all of our special dancers are able to perform in the party scene because it’s a fast-paced act, and it’s not able to be slowed down” Hester clarifies. “We’ve created the intermission show to make sure all dancers feel comfortable, especially those with sensory issues. We were able to fit everyone’s individual needs.”

Hester and the company’s dream and long-term mission is to normalize shows with diverse and special-needs casts. With upward of 300 participants, she hopes special dancers can be included worldwide in traditional ballet productions. She wants to prevent them from being overlooked or “pushed to the edge” in the dance community. More so, she wants to abolish exclusive norms in order to make ballet accessible for all.

“The Great Wilmington Nutcracker Ballet” will be performed on December 15 and 16 at the Wilson Center. Individuals with special needs who want to participate should email to register for the casting call before Oct. 26. Special dancers aren’t required to have any background or training in dance.

Special needs casting call for “The Great Wilmington Nutcracker Ballet” by Wilmington Ballet Company
Fri., Oct. 26, 5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Register ahead of time:
(910) 794-9590

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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