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TOUR DE FORCE IS A COLLABORATIVE PROGRAM BETWEEN MILWAUKEE BALLET AND CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL OF WISCONSIN THAT PUTS CHILDREN, DANCERS AND THERAPISTS TOGETHER IN A STUDIO FOR BALLET CLASSES DESIGNED TO HELP WITH STRETCHING AND STRENGTHENING!
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 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.
LES PETITES (THE LITTLES) - 5 STUDENTS (NOT AGE SPECIFIC)
This class consists of children with very involved needs. They are
dependent for cares and transfers. They may or may not have head
control. This is a slow movement or stretching class, and children are
paired with a physical or occupational therapist, and a dancer from the
Milwaukee Ballet. Class is conducted out of the child’s wheelchair with
the use of floor mats, wedges, benches or bolsters to achieve the
appropriate alignment and comfort for the child while addressing the
goals of the class.
LES ÉLÈVES (THE STUDENTS) – 10 STUDENTS
This is a class for elementary aged children (both cognitively and
actually – approximately 6-9 years old, 1st-4th grade) to stretch and
learn the basics of ballet both on the floor and at the barre. These
children must have head control, but may require use of wheelchairs,
walkers or crutches for mobility aides. They may require orthotics and it
is up to the child if they would like to wear them during class. These
children are paired with a physical or occupational therapist or a
therapy student, as well as a dancer from the Milwaukee Ballet, based
on their needs.
LES SUJETS (THE SOLOISTS) – 12 STUDENTS
This class is for 5-7 year olds (Kindergarten through 2nd grade) who
are independent walkers. They may use braces/orthotics to aid in their
walking or require a hand held for higher level balance tasks. These
children learn ballet stretches, and do both work at the barre and
center or across the room. They are paired with another child in the
class and a helper. Helpers in the class are either therapy students or
dancers with the Milwaukee Ballet. One physical or occupational
therapist is also present at each class to provide assistance as
GLISSADE (GLISSADE IS A BALLET TERM THAT MEANS TO GLIDE) – 6 STUDENTS
This class is for upper elementary school and middle school aged kids
who use a wheelchair as a primary means of mobility. They are able to
move their wheelchair on their own and are interested in learning dance
moves while remaining sitting in their chair. Children should be open and
willing to try new things. One physical or occupational therapist will be
present in the class to provide assistance to the dance instructor as
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.
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.
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!