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

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 annual Nutcracker Sensory-Friendly Family Workshop.


San Francisco 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.

San Francisco Ballet’s Sensory Friendly Family workshop. (© Erik Tomasson)

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

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.

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

What SF Ballet Dancers Did This Summer

(Above) Ana Sophia Scheller in Don Quixote at Stern Grove  // © Erik Tomasson


July is an exciting time at SF Ballet, as Company members return to the studios after a two-month hiatus. In addition to preparing for local performances at Festival Napa Valley (July 27) and Stern Grove Festival (July 29), they worked with choreographers Yuri Possokhov and Liam Scarlett on their upcoming world premieres. They also started rehearsing story ballets like Don QuixoteThe Sleeping Beauty, and The Little Mermaid for the 2019 Season. We caught up with a few of the dancers to find out what they did during their time off—and which ballets they are particularly excited about performing during the 2019 Season.

Tiit Helimets

Principal Dancer

SF Ballet in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid // © Erik Tomasson


What did you do during your summer break?  I choreographed my second ballet for the Estonian National Ballet. It will premiere on November 8, 2019 and I am looking forward to seeing it come to life on the stage.

What are you looking forward to in SF Ballet’s 2019 Season?  I’m glad that [John Neumeier’s] The Little Mermaid is coming back. This was a great ballet to dance. Also [Alexei Ratmansky’s] Shostakovich Trilogy brings back good memories—and challenges.

Sasha De Sola

Principal Dancer

Sasha De Sola teaching at Ballet West Academy // © Beau Pearson


What did you do during your summer break?  Summer is a time for rest and rejuvenation—and travel! This year, Yuan Yuan Tan invited Vitor Luiz and me to her hometown of Shanghai, China. We worked with Netherlands Dance Theater–based choreographer Medhi Walerski in a choreographic workshop for students from Shanghai. I also traveled to Salt Lake City, to teach at Ballet West Academy’s summer intensive. My downtime between trips has been filled with lots of cuddle time with my dog.

What are you looking forward to in SF Ballet’s 2019 Season?  I’m looking forward to being back at work in the SF Ballet studios! It’s hard to pick just one ballet in the upcoming season, but I really enjoy the process of working on the full-length ballets.

 Lauren Strongin


Lauren Strongin and Jaime Castilla in Dana Genshaft’s REELs in Spain // © Alberto Rodrigálvarez


What did you do during your summer break?  I traveled to Zaragoza, Spain and performed with eight other San Francisco Ballet dancers.

What are you looking forward to in SF Ballet’s 2019 Season?  I’m looking forward to the new Liam Scarlett work and Shostakovich Trilogy.

Thamires Chuvas

Corps de Ballet member

Thamires Chuvas in Brazil


What did you do during your summer break? I had an amazing time in Brazil. It’s always great to be back home and see my family and friends.

What are you looking forward to in SF Ballet’s 2019 Season? I’m looking forward to performing in [Helgi Tomasson and Yuri Possokhov’s] Don Quixote because it’s one of my favorite ballets, and The Little Mermaid because I have never seen it before.

Gabriela Gonzalez

Corps de Ballet member

Gabriela Gonzalez at Chichén Itzá in Mexico


What did you do during your summer break?  I spent time in the in the Yucatán peninsula at Puerto Progreso and Chichén Itzá. My summer motto was “Free your spirit, love all around… and dance!”


What are you looking forward to in SF Ballet’s 2019 Season?  I am really looking forward to Divertimento No. 15. When I graduated from Miami City Ballet School, I danced two of the five lead parts (in different casts). That ballet is so very special to me. And also Don Quixote. I love the Spanish flair.