Dance and Universal Design
Posted Mar 27, 2023 by Jacquie Robison
March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness month; this story underscores the power of inclusion, leading with love, and the strength of community in the ballet experience of WAWOS founder Jacquie Robison’s daughter, Sofia. 

I still vividly remember watching my daughter, Sofia, twirl at her first Tutu School lesson at Larkspur Landing in Northern California. Already an avid fan of Angelina Ballerina, she had expressed a keen interest in taking ballet. When she first mentioned it, my heart squeezed a little. My girl was a newly-minted 3 year-old, and had recently been prescribed a walker to practice her stepping, given her diagnosis of mild cerebral palsy. She was weight-bearing and could stand a little independently, thanks to her ankle foot orthoses (AFOs). These braces are used to improve foot and ankle position for better posture, and help improve walking patterns by reducing or limiting movement of the lower leg and foot. She would slide her foot into the AFO and it extended to just below her knee, and we would then insert her foot with the brace into a shoe. Still, I wondered whether we would find a dance studio that would welcome her with neurotypical kids. 

A few years ago, I shared a post about how much it meant to have Genevieve Weeks, founder of Tutu School, look me in the eye and tell me that her dance studio was about inspiring a love of dance and of moving one’s body. And assuring me there was most definitely a spot for Sofia.  

As I looked around the space, I recall realizing that there were already so many indicators that universal design had been considered when creating the environment. Designing for a range of abilities provides lots of benefits, beyond just physical access. Valuing, respecting and celebrating diversity reduces prejudices and challenges stereotypes. When we recognize and embrace diversity as an asset, we encourage inclusive actions and strengthen understanding and self-esteem among people with and without disabilities. 

Considering a space through the lens of access for all can feel daunting, but adding it to your design process from the outset results in a more open, inviting place. 

Here are a few ideas to incorporate:

*Step-free access to general areas

*Seating in the general area at various heights, for those who may have difficulty getting up from the floor on their own

*Level, accessible parking space – does a blue curb space exist outside? If not, is it possible to advocate your local supervisor to add on?

*Wide door frames so walkers and wheelchairs can easily access the space

*Accessible bathroom facilities – this could mean lower sinks, easy to reach hand dryers and a changing area

Accessible design has come a long way since the federal government passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) over 30 years ago. And,Tutu School has as well. Since opening her first studio in San Francisco, Genevieve has grown the company into a franchise collection of boutique ballet schools all over the U.S., in Canada, and now in the U.K.

She recently shared, "I still remember vividly the first day Jacquie and Sofia came to visit Tutu School. I immediately fell in love with Sofia’s determination and outlook, and over the years, every single Tutu Teacher and classmate who came in contact with her did as well. Parents and students even requested to be in the same class as Sofia, because dancing with her was such a positive experience. Sofia and Jacquie taught all of us what real inclusivity looks like, and how it shapes everyone it touches."

As we twirl into the next 30 years, let’s work together to advance access for all, so that people of all abilities are represented in dance and in the world. Representation is so critically important to opening minds and hearts – if our kids see it, they can be it. 

This entry was posted in community, accessibility, inclusion and tagged #universal design #disability awareness #ballet