Local 7-year-old will be the first child with Down syndrome to dance in The Nutcracker

Posted at 2:47 PM, Dec 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-15 07:11:05-05

This story was originally published by Fort Thomas Matters.

The hottest ticket in town right now is to The Nutcracker, especially for the 7:30 PM show on December 14 and the 2:00 PM show on December 17 or for two student matinees.

Why? Well, 7-year-old Jack Barlow will make dance history that day. And it’s kind of a big deal in the dance world.

Jack is the first child with Down syndrome to dance in The Nutcracker, and one of only three to break into the dance world via ballet company.

"We think he may be the third person with Down syndrome to be included in a major production by a ballet company, and we think he is the first child," Ashley Meier Barlow, Jack's mom, said. "So it’s big news."

Ashley says that Jack has been involved in a program since its inception a few years ago called Ballet Moves. The program is run by the Cincinnati Ballet and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and specifically addresses the developmental needs of children with Down syndrome. Ashley said Jack is in his fourth season in the program.

"The purpose is to foster dance across abilities," she said. "They hope that Jack’s inclusion in The Nutcracker is a step for inclusion across the country. That class is amazing.

"It is by far the best activity he does, because it is tailored to his specific needs," she said. "The therapist coordinates with the teacher from the ballet to create activities that are Down syndrome specific.”

For example, many kids with Down syndrome have trouble crossing mid-line so there are dance moves and activities to address that.

Last spring, Ashley had a light hearted conversation with Julie Sunderman, the Cincinnati Ballet Director of Education.  

“You know, I like to tease, so at the end of the year, I said to Julie Sunderman, ‘I think we are going to home school so we can move to Russia so we can concentrate on ballet.’" Ashely said. "(Julie) said, ‘Maybe he should be in The Nutcracker.' We decided to throw Jack into the role and see what happens."

Jack will not have a teacher on stage to guide him, so he will have remember his moves and now be distracted by the audience. He is cast as Party Boy No. 1.

Jack’s character was created for him so the choreography changed to accommodate him.

"This is bigger than Jack being in The Nutcracker," his mom said. "It speaks volumes for inclusion. It speaks volumes for the confidence the Cincinnati Ballet has in people with disabilities. This is a culmination of so many wonderful factors.” 

Fort Thomas Matters is a media partner of WCPO - 9 On Your Side.