Larke Johnson in rehearsal. Courtesy The Joffrey Ballet

The Joffrey Ballet's "Nutcracker" Has a New Role for Dancers With Disabilities

Marie and Franz have a new guest at their Christmas Eve party this year. Emma Lookatch and Larke Johnson, both dancers in the Adaptive Dance Program at Joffrey Academy of Dance: Official School of The Joffrey Ballet, are alternating in the new role of Worker Girl. It is a permanent part created specifically for students with disabilities in Christopher Wheeldon's version of The Nutcracker at The Joffrey Ballet.


Wheeldon's production, which premiered in 2016, is set in Chicago in 1892 right before the first World's Fair. The part of Worker Girl is included in Act I, during the party scene. The character is part of the community of immigrant families living near the fairgrounds.

Lookatch and Johnson perform the part alongside Joffrey Ballet company members and 100 other students from the Joffrey Academy and other local studios that make up the children's cast. "It is lots of fun!" says Lookatch, who has cerebral palsy. "I like watching the other people dance."

Emma Lookatch in rehearsal for The Nutcracker

Courtesy The Joffrey Ballet

This new addition actually brings back a beloved Joffrey tradition. Robert Joffrey's version of The Nutcracker also used to include a role for a student with a disability. According to the Chicago Tribune, former artistic director Gerald Arpino added an accessible role for a Party Boy in 1997 when 8-year-old Stephen Hiatt-Leonard, who had cerebral palsy, auditioned for the children's cast.

For Lookatch, 14, this opportunity is a dream come true. Inspired by watching her younger sister Samara dance, Lookatch began taking a special needs ballet class at age 7. She hasn't looked back since.

"My biggest dream is that I go on 'America's Got Talent' and do a ballet performance," she says.

The Joffrey Academy's Adaptive Dance Program serves students with cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, down syndrome and other varying movement abilities. Lookatch and Johnson have been taking private ballet classes with Tricia Strong through the program for the past three years.

"To say that Trish is wonderful is an understatement," says Bryan Lookatch, Emma's dad, noting that it was Strong who catalyzed the creation of this role. "This experience has really helped build Emma's confidence. It's something she never thought possible a few years back, so it really keeps her motivated."

Latest Posts


Courtesy ABC

Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Alicia Mae Holloway Talks About Her Time on ABC's “The Bachelor”

Bunheads tuning in to the season premiere of ABC's "The Bachelor" on January 4 may have recognized a familiar face: Dance Theatre of Harlem's Alicia Mae Holloway, literally bourréeing out of a limousine to greet bachelor Matt James. While Holloway unfortunately didn't get a rose that night, she did thoroughly enjoy being the long-running reality franchise's first professional-ballerina contestant, as she told Pointe in a recent Zoom call.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

Ask Amy: How Can I Make the Most of Performance Opportunities in a Pandemic?

My school is connected to a professional company that operates on a show-to-show basis. Students can audition for company performances when they're 15. My 15th birthday is in February, and I think that our directors are choosing people to participate in virtual performances based off of whether they have performed with the company before. This was supposed to be my big first year with the company, but COVID-19 has changed that. How do I make it known that I want to participate? Do you think I should wait until things are more normal? —Lila
Keep reading SHOW LESS
Jayme Thornton for Pointe

Join Us for a Q&A With ABT's Gabe Stone Shayer on January 21

Gabe Stone Shayer, American Ballet Theatre's newest soloist, has long been a standout onstage. But the 27-year-old dancer—the first African-American male to graduate from Russia's Bolshoi Ballet Academy—is also branching out into choreography and spearheading a flurry of creative projects. Shayer has big ideas for ballet's future. "I want to be the person who facilitates the idea of possibility in this historically exclusive world," he told us in our December/January digital cover story. "And I want to present the possibility of success through my own story."

Now you have a chance to ask Shayer about his training and career, his advice on navigating a path in ballet, his recent work with Alicia Keys, his thoughts on diversity in dance and more. Click here to register for free with your questions. Then tune in for an exclusive conversation and Q&A with Gabe Stone Shayer on Thursday, January 21, at 7 pm Eastern.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks