Arts & Culture

Charlotte Ballet Accomodates Special Needs Community

This season in tandem with the regular performances of The Nutcracker and Peter Pan, Charlotte Ballet will also perform a sensory-friendly iteration for those with special needs to enjoy as well.

The idea for a sensory-friendly performance came three years ago when Charlotte Ballet’s director of education, Bianca Bonner, noticed when a family with a special needs child was concerned about the child’s excitement for the performance being possible disruptive to other patrons.

This spurred Bonner’s idea for a sensory-friendly performance, a need in the community she sought to fill.

Charlotte Ballet
A young guest enjoys a sensory-friendly performance by Charlotte Ballet. (Photo by Jeff Cravotta, Courtesy of Charlotte Ballet)

“You know what, maybe there needs to be a performance for our special needs so they could do whatever they need, they can sit wherever they need to sit,” Bonner said. “They can sit in the back, they can get up and walk out, the lights won’t be as bright, just something where they can feel comfortable that they can enjoy with their loved ones.”

The sensory-friendly version of The Nutcracker will be Dec. 13 at 1 p.m., while the Peter Pan performance will be March 13 at 1 p.m. as well. When purchasing tickets, families and loved ones can request certain seating, such as aisle seats so that the child can sit on the floor if needed.

There are many other accommodations and changes made to the performance and the audience seating in order to create a comfortable and calm environment so that patrons with special needs can enjoy the show.

Charlotte Ballet will not utilize a live musical orchestra to accompany the performances, instead opting for recorded music that will play at a soft volume. The music will also be removed of any loud, crashing sounds such as sudden bangs or drums. With the absence of an accompanying orchestra, the music pit will be available for wheelchair accessible seating so that guests can see the performance up close if desired.

Designated “quiet areas” will also be available in the building for those who might need to decompress during the performance or intermission.

The changes in the performance to create a sensory-friendly environment came after plenty research, according to Bonner.

“The first thing that we did was we went ahead and searched for other dance companies that were doing the same, and we came across at least three or four dance companies,” Bonner said. “We interviewed them about what was the best way to do it. We actually partnered with other organizations that meet the needs of those who have special needs that way we can see what we needed.”

The cast of ‘The Nutcracker.’ (Photo by Jeff Cravotta, Courtesy of Charlotte Ballet)

In partnering with organizations like Autism Speaks, the Allegro Foundations and InReach, the company was able to gather the information that they needed in order to implement the changes needed to create the sensory-friendly performance. The performance has been abbreviated from the full run time to have a 30-minute first act, a 30-minute intermission followed by a 30-minute second act.

Furthermore, the staff, production team and dancers receive training on what to expect during the performance and accommodate additional needs.

“We will definitely want to see the feedback from families to see what are some things that they like about the performances and what they need,” Bonner said about additional changes they see Charlotte Ballet making in the future.

Tickets for the performances are $15 and are available by calling 704-348-5752 or visiting


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