Roxey Ballet’s Sensory-Friendly Performance for Those With Autism

Courtesy of Roxey Ballet

This weekend, Roxey Ballet presented a sensory-friendly production of Cinderella at the Kendell Main Stage Theater in Ewing, New Jersey, with sound adjustments, a relaxed house environment and volunteers present to assist audience members with special needs. The production came on the heels of three educational residencies held at New Jersey–based elementary schools in honor of Autism Awareness Month in April.


This isn't the first ballet the company has mounted to better serve audience members with disabilities. Founded in 1995 by Mark and Melissa Roxey, the ballet has upheld its mission of full accessibility through annual sensory-friendly works such as The Nutcracker, The Pied Piper of Hamlin and Mowgli, a ballet based on Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book. "Our mission is to provide access to dance for all," says founding director Mark Roxey. "A sensory-relaxed show is one that is truly accessible to all."

In addition to lower sound volumes and the removal of sudden lighting and special effects, house lights are kept on at 50 percent so audience members can get up, move around and leave at their leisure. Audience members are free to use iPads and other therapeutic electronic devices. Earplugs and fidget toys are available, and areas of the lobby are designated for both quiet and activity time for those needing a break. In addition, Roxey Ballet enlisted the help of dozens of certified staff and volunteers from autism service agencies, schools and other organizations to assist patrons.

"The dancers are from all over the world and are absolutely exceptional professional artists," says Roxey, noting that combining excellent performance with increased accessibility for all has grown Roxey Ballet's audience and outreach exponentially.

In conjunction with this production, Roxey Ballet partnered with The Rock Brook School, Mercer Elementary School and Northern Hills Academy for 16 weeks to offer a creative dance curriculum to children with autism, cognitive disorders and behavioral disabilities.

For more information, visit: roxeyballet.org/sensoryfriendly

Music
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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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