Dying Oklahoma girl, 9, achieves lifelong dream to star in The Nutcracker: Will appear in each ballet as newly-created character who uses vintage wheelchair
- Olivia Francis, 9, had dreamed of dancing in the Nutcracker, but just one year after she started ballet she was diagnosed with a rare neurological condition
- Olivia’s mother Mary reached out to the Oklahoma City Ballet to see if they could include her in their production of the Nutcracker
- The ballet created a new role just for Olivia — a girl named Marie who uses a vintage wheelchair
A dying Oklahoma girl’s lifelong dream of dancing in the Nutcracker has come true thanks to the hard work of her mother and her local ballet.
Olivia Francis, nine, had long dreamed of dancing in the holiday ballet. But just one year after she started dance lessons, the young girl was diagnosed with Friedreich’s ataxia, a rare, terminal neurological condition that affects her ability to walk.
But Olivia’s mother, Mary, wanted her little girl’s dream to come true and reached out to the Oklahoma City Ballet to see if it could help.
Working together, they were able to create a new role just for Olivia — a girl named Marie who uses a vintage wheelchair.
Olivia Francis, 9, left, had long dreamed of performing in the Nutcracker, but just one year after she started dance classes, she was diagnosed with a rare neurological disease
The young girl’s dreams finally came true this year when the Oklahoma City Ballet included her in their production of the holiday show
The ballet created a role just for her — a girl named Marie who uses a vintage wheelchair
Olivia said she cried when she heard the news that she would finally be able to perform on stage alongside her fellow ballerinas — a dream she first wrote about in her first-grade notebook, according to OKC FOX.
Olivia told KOCO the role as Clara’s sister is not the way she envisioned she would be in the holiday production but said ‘I’m really grateful.’
She noted: ‘Mostly I’m just acting, but there is one part where I can dance.’
And when she does get up to dance, Racheal Nye, the school director for the Oklahoma City Ballet, said ‘everyone just has their eyes on her.
‘It’s really something to see her on stage,’ she said. ‘It’s inspired everyone around her.’
Clips of her performance show little Olivia using her arms to join in the choreography, while other actors on stage move her wheelchair around in line with the dancing.
And while admitting she was slightly nervous for her performance, Olivia said that the best part of being involved in the Nutcracker was making friends with the others on set.
Friedreich’s ataxia is a genetic disorder damages the spinal cord, peripheral nerves, and the cerebellum portion of the brain.
For Olivia, it is unlikely that she will ever be able to walk with her condition.
For Mary, the sight brought tears to her eyes.
‘It’s so exciting,’ she said, revealing that her excited daughter told her ‘Mom, they’re trying to make me famous.’
Olivia’s mother, Mary, said the sight of her daughter dancing on stage brought tears to her eyes
Olivia, pictured left in her wheelchair, made her debut on December 10 and will continue to play the role through the close of the show on the 18
What is Friedrich’s ataxia? The rare, terminal neurological disorder that affects 50,000 in the United States
Friedrich’s ataxia is a rare, terminal neurological condition that affects just 50,000 people in the United States.
It is caused by a mutation in a gene labeled FXN, which carries the genetic code for a protein called frataxin. Individuals who inherit two defective copies of the gene, one from each parent, will develop the disease.
The genetic disorder damages the spinal cord, peripheral nerves, and the cerebellum portion of the brain.
The rate of progression varies from person to person.
Generally, within 10 to 20 years after the appearance of the first symptoms the person is confined to a wheelchair. Individuals may become completely incapacitated in later stages of the disease.
Friedreich ataxia can shorten life expectancy, and heart disease is the most common cause of death.
However, some people with less severe features of FA live into their sixties or older.
There is no cure for the condition, and treatments do not help.