A “tour de force” is defined as an arresting or vital step in French ballet terminology.

In 2014, Milwaukee Ballet and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin partnered to create a landmark program to offer children with disabilities the chance to do something they once thought was impossible: dance. These little dancers stretch their muscles and minds in new ways as they work with a professional dancers and physical therapist in beginning ballet classes. In 2017, Tour de Force expanded to include a class for students in wheelchairs.

Watch this TMJ4 feature to learn more about this ground-breaking program.

With gratitude, Tour de Force is supported by Heil Family Foundation and The Reeve Foundation.

How did Tour de Force come about?

The program was the brainchild of Dr. Maya Evans, MD, Director of Pediatrics, Physical Medicine & Rehab at Children’s Hospital. We imagined if these children who have a range of disabilities could see that dancers have a very strict training regimen, and they weren’t the only ones in the world who had to push their bodies on a daily basis, they would be motivated to stretch and do their exercises more often.

“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,” Alyson Chavez, Director of Community Engagement.

How does Tour de Force empower these children?

The benefits are far greater and the rewards much bigger than we ever imagined. These children are doing ballet, stretching, growing, and changing!

Diane Feldt, a physical therapist for Children’s Hospital and mother of an eight-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. It is nothing short of amazing.”

Milwaukee Ballet dancers are inspired to keep pushing themselves as they see their ballet buddies making weekly progress – lifting their torsos, responding to touch and direction, standing in “relevé,” walking, jumping, and holding their arms in fifth position with less assistance or none at all.

What makes Tour de Force so special?

At the end of their 5-week session, the children and their families enjoy a family-friendly Milwaukee Ballet performance where they see ‘their’ dancer on stage!

We named the program Tour de Force because we see each of our young dancers take big steps, leaps, and strides in every class! In the short time since Tour de Force began, the program has won a Eureka! Award from the Milwaukee Business Journal for Innovation in the Performing Arts, and has been featured on CBS 58 Sunday Morning and an Emmy-nominated episode of Milwaukee PBS’s The Arts Page.

Together we are all doing something neither organization – Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin nor Milwaukee Ballet – could do alone.  We’ll continue to inspire and be inspired!

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