A Sensory-Friendly Nutcracker Experience: SF Ballet Partners with Autism Fun Bay Area

SF Ballet’s Sensory-Friendly Family Workshop // © Erik Tomasson

For the past three years, San Francisco Ballet has partnered with Autism Fun Bay Area to provide sensory-friendly ballet workshops for children and young adults with autism and related disabilities and their families. The workshops’ goal is to make ballet accessible to individuals and families affected by autism and related disabilities. Particularly popular is our Nutcracker Sensory-Friendly Family Workshop, last offered in December 2017.

SF Ballet’s Sensory-Friendly Family Workshop // © Erik Tomasson

Every aspect of the workshop is carefully planned with our audience in mind. Events are engaging, interactive, and hands-on—a shush-free and shame-free environment for families to experience a ballet performance and movement class that is specifically tailored to the sensory and behavioral needs of the individuals. The workshops include a shortened performance featuring professional dancers with San Francisco Ballet as well as SF Ballet School Trainees. After the performance, families are invited to participate in a movement workshop led by an SF Ballet School Faculty member. Families also have the opportunity to meet and take photos with dancers, try on a tutu, and explore tactile activity tables with costumes and ballet shoes.

Principal Dancer Sofiane Sylve with participants // © Erik Tomasson

Throughout the workshop, families are encouraged to walk around the studio and explore movement, use the social stories guide, and visit the quiet room. 

SF Ballet’s Sensory-Friendly Family Workshop // © Erik Tomasson

Autism Fun Bay Area Co-founder Sigrid Van Bladel, a mother of a teen with autism, explains that “having these dedicated performances tailored to them where everyone can feel good, parents don’t have to be nervous, and kids can be themselves … is just unbelievably valuable.” When she and her concert pianist husband created Autism Fun Bay Area in 2012, their goal was to bring high-quality music and dance to families who are unable to attend regular performances due to sensory challenges. By working with arts organizations such as SF Ballet, Autism Fun Bay Area is able to modify the traditional theater experience for the special needs community.

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