Here we are, fully immersed in a season rich with traditions. Lights. Candles. Cuisine. Home-cooked meals. Gifts. Family.
Why do we love it all? Because traditions have this innate ability to establish (or re-establish) a heartfelt connection with those we love.
Since 1993, the Broomfield-based Colorado Conservatory of Dance has been presenting a full-length, family-favorite ballet production of The Nutcracker, a pinnacle holiday tradition.
More than a tradition, this highly acclaimed CCD program has a deeper mission to be a gift to the community who has been supporting them for 30 years.
Local CCD students, several of whom are Broomfield residents, tirelessly train for hundreds of hours, ready to be paired with world-renowned guest artists. Internationally recognized dancers from around the world come because they deeply believe in what art can do for a community and for its local dance students. Together they connect with their audiences through mesmerizing choreography, intricate sets, and gorgeous costumes. They use their talents to transform a holiday tradition into a heartfelt gift that will leave a lasting effect on their observers. A true labor of love and something Broomfield locals can be proud of, evidenced by how quickly the performances sell out year after year.
Theater performances can be challenging for those with special needs. In a typical theater setting, these guests can get shushed and shamed for their movement, wiggling, and sounds leaving an impression that makes them feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.
Recognizing this reality, in 2014 CCD responded. More than a typical holiday outing for the masses, and the creation of world-class programming, the Colorado Conservatory of Dance made it their mission to offer a sensory-friendly performance, accessible to all - a family tradition that includes everyone. Sound levels are adjusted. Audience members are allowed and encouraged to walk around or use manipulatives. Vocalization is welcomed. Typical “theater-going rules” that would inhibit are taken away. After the performance, the dancers will mingle in the lobby with the guests. It is a true VIP experience.
Julia Wilkinson Manley, CCD Founder & Artistic Director explains, “For those who have family members who have special needs, when having a holiday experience, you want them to feel all of the enjoyment as you do. This situation is set up for families to feel welcome and to let their guard down. The most special thing about our performers and about this performance is that we create this amazing production, and our sensory-friendly audience is getting the same experience that the typical audience gets to see.”
A guest tells their story. “Our family has been going since 2016 and this event has become an annual family tradition that we look forward to every year. My ten-year-old daughter Eve has a complex genetic disorder. She is profoundly deaf, has low vision, has global developmental disabilities and has most recently been diagnosed with both autism and intellectual disability. With this performance, she is able to stand right in front of the stage (for visual access), dance/move, and she has complete freedom just to exist as the beautiful person she is without constraints or judgment. There is truly no other event like this where my entire family can be comfortable and truly feel and be welcomed and accepted for who we are. The ability to meet the dancers up-close afterwards is also extremely fun and an exciting part of the experience for both my kids.”
Equally impacted are the CCD performers, whose training experience is also a gift.
Abbey Sterling started dancing with the Colorado Conservatory of Dance when she was 3. Now 15, she is excited to perform several roles in this year’s Nutcracker production, to include Dewdrop, a featured dancer in the Waltz of the Flowers.
The sensory-friendly performances are Abbey’s favorite by far. “Because the lights are up, as a dancer, I get to see the audience. I think this is special for everyone. After the performance, I get to meet our guests, and they can touch and feel my costume. It is cool to watch how they react to our tutus and pointe shoes, and to hear how much they loved watching us, and wanting to take photographs together.”
Abbey explains the influence her CCD instructors and these world-renowned guest performers have had on her life. “Once I got to share a dressing room with the Sugar Plums. They were so kind. Hearing their stories and shared experiences was amazing.” Abbey describes what it felt like to meet them and watch all of them dance, inspiring her to train hard, keep going, and that through dance, she could become the best version of herself. In addition to The Nutcracker, CCD outreach performances are her favorite where dancers travel to local schools to perform anti-bullying productions.
As the curtains go up, this holiday tradition will once again unfold as the beautiful gift it has become. Audience members, CCD dancers, guest performers, et al, will together experience and celebrate another performance of a lifetime. And for those that catch the spark of what this gift offers, there are CCD programs waiting for them to become a part of it all.