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Meet Bonnie Schlachte of Ballet For All Kids in Agoura Hills and Encino

Today we’d like to introduce you to Bonnie Schlachte.

Bonnie, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I started working with folks with Developmental Disabilities quite by chance. I had just gotten my BA in psychology and I needed to get a job in the field. I had no experience and didn’t know how to get started. I was waiting tables and there was a group of folks with disabilities who rolled silverware. I ask the supervisor one day about a job and he said I could work there on the weekends supervising them.

I was very nervous when I start the job because I had never been around anyone with a disability. But there was one gentleman, Robbie, who made me fall in love with working in this field. Robbie was this gentle giant who never talked and moved very slowly. Being young and naïve, I wasn’t sure if Robbie understood anything that was going on or if he was even paying attention. I was late for work one day and I walk into the restaurant and there was Robbie – he had set up the entire station, gotten everything organized, made a pot of coffee and had my cup set out with my two creamers. He had this HUGE grin on his face. It was then and there that I saw the humanity and love in these people and learned never to underestimate individuals with disabilities ever again.

I’ve been working in this field ever since.

After my daughter was born, I began to dream again that I was dancing. So, I got my middle-aged body back into a leotard and started doing my ballet barre. One day while rocking my daughter to sleep, I started thinking about how lucky I was to have a wonderful neuro-typical daughter and to be dancing again.

Because of my focus on people with disabilities, I began to think of what I would do if my daughter had a disability – where would she take classes? When I did research, I realized there was nothing out there for children of all abilities.

That’s how Ballet For All Kids was started — out of the belief that EVERY child should have the opportunity to experience a classical ballet education and all the benefits it brings.

Has it been a smooth road?
I believe that every path has its challenges. Sometimes the challenges are individualized and sometimes they are based around accepted social norms. As a teacher, I often have challenges with individual students but those challenges stem from learning how to teach a lesson in a way that the child can understand. I am always evaluating my teaching style and seeing if there is a better way to communicate to students. The challenges based on accepted social norms have come from getting people to understand the benefits of an integrated program. That a “typical” student learning ballet alongside a student with a special need enriches all of students’ lives. That it’s okay to expect the same high standard from children with special needs as it is of the “typical” dancers. That sometimes we need to remember that kids are kids and we all have our own unique abilities and shortcomings.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Ballet For All Kids – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Ballet For All Kids is the only studio in the world that teaches students of all abilities classical ballet. We believe that everyone can benefit from a traditional dance education.

Ballet needs to be accessible to all children – not just as an elite art for those who aspire to become professional dancers. Ballet teaches many lessons that go beyond the studio and right on into life. It teaches focus, the importance of preparation, and that you have to be balanced first at your core before you can do the hard stuff. It also teaches you to learn from your mistakes, the mistakes of others, and that you should begin strong as a way to finish strong. The list goes on and on. All these translate into valuable life skills. Everyone can benefit from these lessons. My belief is that dance should be taught in a compassionate, inclusive way. You can teach good technique and have high expectations without killing someone’s self-esteem.

So many positive changes have come out of Ballet For All Kids. I’ve heard countless stories of children doing better in school because of the ballet, even learning to read because the classes have given them focus. I’ve heard stories about overcoming a sense of worthlessness through new friendships in class. Team sports have become an option for some, and, for others, even a game of tag on the playground is now possible because of increased physical coordination and more confidence. I’ve also seen fears and anxieties diminish in the studio.

What makes us unique is that we are a typical dance studio that accepts all dancers even if they are not considered typical in this world. But we are not “dumbing down” ballet technique because we are all inclusive. This isn’t simply an inclusive environment where participation equals success. Success in our program is measured by learning and performing classical ballet – we just teach in a compassionate, non-competitive setting.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I love that Los Angeles is never boring! There is always something to do and some new experience to be had. I love the people of this city and the diversity.

However, I hate the traffic!


Contact Info:

Image Credit:
My photo is Rick Guidotti and the other photos are Kimberly Millard

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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