Low Sensory Dance Performance for Kids with Autism

Grand Rapids Children's Museum and Grand Rapids Ballet team up on low-sensory dance performance for kids with autism.
Grand Rapids Children's Museum and Grand Rapids Ballet team up on low-sensory dance performance for kids with autism.

On Monday, in partnership with the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum (GRCM), the Grand Rapids Ballet will present a low-sensory dance performance geared towards children with autism.

“Adam’s Key,” a piece by choreographer Danielle Rowe, created as part of the ballet’s MoveMedia: Diversity II series, has been tailored to make those with autism more comfortable.

The work itself illuminates the world of a child with autism and the perspectives of the people living, working and interacting with the child.

Michael Erickson, marketing director at Grand Rapids Ballet, said the theme of this year’s MoveMedia series focused on the topic of diversity, inclusion and acceptance and “Adam’s Key” easily lent itself to a low sensory performance.

“Because it’s important to me to forge relationships with the other arts organizations in the city, I immediately thought of Grand Rapids Children’s Museum as a partner for “Adam’s Key,” which illuminates the world of a child with autism through the art of dance.

“With the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum’s guidance, the light and sound in the theater will be reduced and there will be sensory toolkits available at no cost.”

Erickson said the ballet worked with its dancers to prepare them for the experience as well. “It was important that our dancers be educated to the fact that members of the audience may be talking and moving throughout the performance—something to which they are not necessarily accustomed. It was a two-sided process and very enlightening.”

Doors open at 5 p.m. Sensory toolkits include noise reduction headphones, weighted vests and suspenders, emotion recognition flashcards, and fidget bracelets. The sound and lights in Peter Martin Wege Theatre will also be lowered.

Ahead of the performance, kids can also enjoy some of the GRCM’s sensory play activities in the lobby.

The 30-minute performance will begin at 5:30 p.m. It will be followed by a panel discussion of experts to learn more about creating autism-friendly experiences for your child, yourself, your students or your patrons.

The performance is free to attend, but registration is required.

Adrienne Brown Reasner, director of communications and events at the GRCM, said the museum is excited to partner with the ballet on the program. She said the museum is already hearing positive feedback about the performance.

“People are really excited. A few families have said that their kids really like dance but they can’t sit still in an auditorium for a two-hour performance,” Brown said.

She said this gives kids who wouldn’t otherwise be able to experience a dance performance the chance not only to enjoy a performance tailored to their needs but also in a traditional setting.

The GRCM has been focusing on creating low sensory environments for its patrons for several years now. Twice a year for the past 11 years the museum has hosted Connor’s Friends, which are low sensory nights specifically geared for kids on the autism spectrum.

The museum also began providing backpacks filled with sensory support items like weighted vests and fidget spinners, to its visitors about a year ago to help all kids be able to enjoy its exhibits.

Brown Reasner said the GRCM is committed to its mission that “play is for everyone.”

She said GRCM is open to future collaborations with the Grand Rapids Ballet as well as other arts and culture organizations in Grand Rapids interested in creating low sensory events for children.

Erickson said the Grand Rapids Ballet hopes to integrate at least one low sensory performance per season going forward.

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