Meet Bella. She is a 12-year-old girl who loves to dance and listen to music. For the second year in a row, Bella danced in the December 11th adapted performance of the New England Ballet Company and the Milford Connecticut Recreation Department’s Nutcracker Suite.
Bella and her smiley personality had two parts in the production. She shone as the Dew Drop princess and she was a snowflake in the production’s finale.
A dream of many young girls, dancing in the Nutcracker might not have seemed within reach for Bella, a young girl with Mowat-Wilson Syndrome. Bella, like other children with this syndrome, has significant developmental delays that result in cognitive and physical challenges. Without many spoken words, Bella understands much of what is said to her. This means that Bella comprehends more than people realize, so not being able to express her wants and needs can be frustrating.
Bella loves going to dance class. She is ready to go the moment her mom arrives home from work. During the class, volunteer dancers from the New England Ballet join the Milford Rec Adaptive ballet class. Two years ago, the program started with only a few kids, and today, the program has grown to four classes a week, each with about 10-12 students.
The program is inspired by a mom with a son who has special needs. Like this mom, Bella’s mom, Laura, knows that giving her daughter the opportunity to participate in this class and become involved in the community is critical to her self-esteem and sense of belonging.
Bella’s mom was proud to tell me about her progression: “When Bella first started ballet classes, she couldn’t follow any directions. Her processing time was so slow that she would mostly watch the class. Now, we see her making some of the movements, trying to imitate the mentors, and working so hard to do it. Her improvement in the period of two years is amazing!”
During the Nutcracker, Bella danced with her mentor. While onstage, she was smiling, jumping and waving to the crowd. She loved every second of it.
Bella’s costumes were lent to her and the other performers by the New England Ballet Company. Being dressed up as the Dew Drop Princess was a special moment for Bella. Bella’s glow that day showed not only how pretty she felt in her costume, but also an awareness of what she had accomplished.
When the show was over and the performers were taking their bows, Bella signed “more” by tapping the tips of her fingers together, a sure signal to her mom and the audience that she did not want the moment to end.
As a parent of a child with special needs, you know that your child will learn so much when involved in the community, but what is easy to forget is what people around them take away from the experience. During the performance, two of Bella’s school friends kept her company backstage and helped her change into her costumes. With this help, Bella’s family could watch the show uninterrupted. When Laura went backstage for a quick check on Bella, she could see the patience, compassion and understanding that Bella’s friends showed her daughter, and how important that made Bella feel. To other people watching these interactions, the pride Bella’s friends felt in helping her participate left its mark on them as well.
For Bella’s family, the experience of Bella participating in the Nutcracker was beyond exciting. Watching the preparation and the actual performance unfold on Bella’s mom’s Facebook, her excitement was obvious, as was her pride in her daughter and her community. When I asked Laura about her experience watching Bella onstage, she said, “You could feel the flow of love and compassion from the people in the audience.”
Bella will continue to dance. People will be mesmerized by her spirit and love of ballet. Bella’s mom characterized her daughter in the best way when she said, “(Bella) you used your special abilities to shine and to be a part of something magical.”