Teri Wilson
July 05, 2015 9:40 am

So many little girls dream of growing up and one day becoming ballerinas. But dance is a demanding physical activity, and sometimes those dreams just aren’t realistic.

Or are they?

Natalia Armoza is challenging that belief in the most beautiful of ways.

Natalia’s daughter, Pearl, was born with cerebral palsy. Cerebral palsy is a condition caused by a traumatic brain injury before or during birth, resulting in impaired muscle coordination. People with cerebral palsy struggle with movement, balance and posture, all the hallmarks of ballet.

In a video produced by Upworthy, Natalia tells how she heard about dance workshops offered by The New York City Ballet for children. Sadly, none of the classes were geared toward differently-abled kids. Natalia wanted to open the doors of Lincoln Center to children like Pearl who, otherwise, might never have the chance to dance. “There were movement programs for children to dance with dancers from The New York City Ballet, and I really would have loved to have done one of those with Pearl, but I didn’t want her to be the focus of other people’s stares or comments, and I wanted to really protect her from that.”

So what did Natalia do? She wrote an email to the company and told them about her beautiful daughter. Part of her message reads like this…

It would mean so much to my daughter and children like her to be able to take part in a New York City Ballet workshop and for one day feel like they too could become ballerinas. 

Natalia figured the worse they could do was say no.

They didn’t.

The ballet company responded in an absolutely amazing way. They reached out to a Cerebral Palsy specialist to help them organize not just one workshop for Pearl, but four. Joseph Jutkowsy, M.D., remembers the moment he heard about the workshop. “Out of the blue one day, I got an email. Would you be willing to come and help us set up some workshops for children with disabilities? I remember looking at it and thinking YES!”

The classes were taught by Adrian Danchig-Waring and Maria Kowroski, who are both principal dancers with NY City Ballet, which means they’re big stars in the dance world.

Both were very enthusiastic about the project and approached it with the utmost care. “I didn’t want to treat them differently from a normal child. I didn’t want to make them feel disabled,” Maria says in the Upworthy video. “I was worried that I was going to get emotional watching them because it’s difficult to see someone struggle.”

But the workshops weren’t about struggling. They were about letting go.

Before the ballet classes, parents asked Dr. Jutkowsky if their children should wear their braces. He says, “I looked down and I said, ‘This is dance, not therapy.'”

The children were free to move in any way they could. Adrian says that was the moment that really clicked for him and Maria because they could see a sense of liberation and freedom. And after all, that’s what dance should be about.

The classes culminated in a final workshop that included a performance with the children wearing tutus and superhero capes. It was a rare moment for the parents to just sit back and enjoy seeing their kids being kids. One moment in particular touched Natalia’s heart. “I see parents who are always holding, literally holding, their children up or pulling them out of a wheelchair. And when I can see them sitting and seeing their child be independent, I get emotional,” she said.

She’s not the only one. Principal dancer Adrian Danchig-Waring says, “It was a really emotional day. Maria and I had not been prepared for how connected we would feel immediately with the group of kids that we had. In fact, we had underprepared for how energetic, enthusiastic, and physically capable these kids turned out to be.”

Kudos to The New York City Ballet for making dreams come true for nineteen children like Pearl. And extra-special kudos for Natalia, a truly world-class mom. We’re so inspired and touched by you and your lovely daughter.

Take a few minutes and watch the Upworthy video in its entirety. We’re betting it will be the best thing you see all day.

(All images via Upworthy video.)

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