The gift of a lifetime: A chance to dance with professionals


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Sixteen kids in Charlotte are gearing up for the opportunity of a lifetime to perform in “The Nutcracker” this holiday season, but they’ll be traveling to Wilmington to get it. 


What You Need To Know

  • A Chance to Dance is a studio designed for dancers with different abilities
  • Sixteen dancers are traveling to Wilmington to be part of the ballet production “The Nutcracker”
  • They will be sharing a stage with professionals and other youth from studios in Wilmington

Kim Smith has been dreaming of this moment since she opened her dance studio six years ago for kids who aren’t typically developing, but she could never bring herself to get her hopes up until now. She sees her dancers for the talented individuals they are, who bring their own personality and flare each time they step on a stage. 

“A few years back I took a lot of these kids to see a local, sensory-friendly Nutcracker and I remember sitting in the audience …and I just remember looking at the stage and wishing why can’t they do this,” Smith said. 

Dancer practices for a scene in ‘The Nutcracker’

These kids often don’t fit in at other studios and sometimes aren’t even given the chance. Smith took it upon herself to create a space where they could see their worth through her eyes. 

“When I see them I see magic,” Smith said. “The question we get asked most often is ‘how does this work?’ and I always tell people I literally don’t know. I don’t have a degree in special education. I did grow up in dance. But as far as choreographing, working with special needs, I just have a passion for it because I have a daughter with special needs.”

Opposition and doubt is something they’re used to experiencing, said Ava Whipple, a dancer with A Chance to Dance, but none of that matters to her because she’s dancing for herself. 

“I love the passion, I love helping my friends and just being myself,” Whipple said. “I am a dancer so if you don’t want me to be, it’s okay.”

Sometimes a disability is obvious, but for many of the dancers at the studio, it’s invisible, which can often make it harder for people to understand why certain things are a struggle. In fact, the simplest thing like moving can be a challenge. 

Kim Smith and the dancers who will be performing in ‘The Nutcracker’

“A lot of the kids in this performance are on the autism spectrum,” Smith said “They don’t look different so when they have behaviors or they’re having struggles, people automatically assume they’re misbehaving and they’re not.”

Smith gave her dancers the opportunity to be seen, but Aunika Browne, the executive director of the Wilmington Ballet Company, has given them the gift of their dreams this Christmas. 

“For Aunika to reach out and give these kids the opportunity is definitely the best Christmas present ever,” Smith said. “To see them on a stage where professional dancers dance and being treated the same and it’s not so much about inclusion, it’s just humanity,”



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