For Gabriela, Sundays have been different for the last 6 years. She follows the ritual of any dancer; she dresses up with her maillot and ties her hair up. Ready for the lesson, she walks into the dance academy with enthusiasm and, holding the barre, she practices the dance steps that at the end of the course she will perform in one of the most important theatres in her city. Something that she would never have imagined, as she had been forbidden from because of her cerebral palsy.
“My daughter always tells me that she is happy when she is on the stage because people can look at her and see that she is not so different from others,” explains Marcia Castillo, mother of Gabriela, a 14-year-old girl who has muscle stiffness caused by a brain lesion. “Since an early age, children with functional diversity suffer the hostile look of society. It’s hard to find activities in which they can participate until I found Balletvale+,” Castillo says.
Balletvale+ is a project from Valencia that organizes adapted classical dance classes for children with reduced mobility, such as cerebral paralysis or other disabilities. Through ballet classes, students can improve their posture, balance, and selective body control. During these classes, they are supported by physiotherapists and professional dancers, who voluntarily help the children to perform the proposed exercises when is required. At the end of the course, the teachers organize a show where the students with and without functional diversity share the stage on an equal status. “In this way, all the children get used to the idea that the world is made up of different people and that there is no reason to be afraid of differences,” explains Marcia Castillo.
The benefits of this project are not only physical but also emotional. In Gabriela’s case, these have been the most evident and have been motivated by sharing a space with children similar to her and children without any functional diversity. “Participating in a theatrical show, going on stage and facing the audience is for her a boost to her self-esteem, resilience, and emotional strength, and just for that reason it is worth it,” explains Castillo.
Balletvale+ is also a way out for families who, unable to find a space where their children could discover their interests and preferences, feel very lost. “Only going to a birthday party or a ballpark is a moment of distress because your child can’t share the space with the rest of the children,” explains Gabriela’s mother. With the help of this project, the families are able to overcome the fears of rejection and marginalization that society had created for them. “When I realized that my daughter could do many more things than society had led me to believe she could do, I felt a huge satisfaction, calmness, and hope for the future,” describes Castillo.
Balletvale+ has been recognized as a necessary and urgent project in today’s society for promoting inclusion, opening doors to activities that seemed impossible for people with certain limitations, and making diversity less dramatized and more visible. “The first time you see your daughter on stage is a moment of great emotion because you realize that everyone is in a public space on equal terms,” Castillo remembers with emotion.