Philadelphia Ballet invites Black dads to bring their kids to the Nutcracker

A man holds hands with his children next to a giant Nutcracker statue.

Lloyd Freeman, a board member of the Philadelphia Ballet, started the "Daddy and Me" initiative to encourage more men — particularly Black men — to bring their children to the ballet. He brought his two children, Ailey, left, and Beau, right, to a production of The Nutcracker. (Courtesy of HughE Dillon)

For generations, annual performances of the Nutcracker ballet has been an entry into the world of dance for kids.

This weekend, the Philadelphia Ballet expands that door to include Black men.

“Daddy and Me” is an initiative to encourage men to take their kids out to the ballet. On Sunday, 100 tickets have been reserved at a reduced rate: all fathers and father figures can get a ticket for $50 and one for their kids for $25. Those who take advantage of the package can attend a reception afterwards to meet the cast, and the other dads.

“It started as a small campaign for me to get about 100 of my friends, all dads, to come and bring their kids to the ballet. Open it up to more men, open it up to more children,” said Lloyd Freeman, a Philadelphia lawyer who sits on the board of the Philadelphia Ballet. “It kind of just expanded from there.”

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Freeman said the response to “Daddy and Me” has been “overwhelming.” Those 100 tickets sold out quickly. He said men in New York and Washington, D.C. — cities with renowned ballet companies doing their own Nutcrackers — are coming into Philadelphia with their kids to be part of “Daddy and Me.”

Two children smile and hold nutcracker figurines.
Ailey, 6, left, and Beau, 3, right, show off their own nutcracker figurines. (Courtesy of HughE Dillon)

It didn’t happen without stepping on some toes.

“I got a number of moms and aunts and grandmoms who said, ‘Hey, what do you mean? I can’t get one of these tickets and come along?,’” said Freeman. “We’re going to make this a very special moment for the dads and the uncles and the godfathers, all the father figures to really make a powerful statement.”

You don’t have to be a father to get a cheap ticket to the ballet. A certain number of $25 tickets are available for every performance all season, and rush tickets — available an hour before curtain — are $10 for students and $25 for general audiences.

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Freeman, who is chief diversity and inclusion officer with the law firm Buchanan, Ingersoll, and Rooney, joined the board of the Philadelphia Ballet last May and saw that its audiences were out of proportions with the makeup of the city. There are relatively few Black audience members, and hardly any Black men.

“If you look at the art form generally and you look at ballet companies across the country, you are going to see audiences that are likely to be majority white. We want to change that,” Freeman said. “As someone whose life’s work is around the [Diversity and Inclusion] space, I’m never going to be satisfied. We can always do better with our diversity.”

A man holds hands with his two children as they walk down the steps.
Lloyd Freeman, a member of the board of the Philadelphia Ballet, started the “Daddy and Me” initiative to encourage more men — particularly Black men — to bring their children to the ballet. He brought his two children, Ailey, left, and Beau, right, to a production of The Nutcracker. (Courtesy of HughE Dillon)

Freeman said the Ballet has formed a diversity committee to explore strategies to welcome a broader range of audiences. In the 2021-2022 season, the Ballet began offering $25 tickets to all its productions, which they hoped would lower some financial hesitations about going to see dance.

For the Nutcracker, a lower ticket price for kids along with an opportunity to mingle might encourage people to bring their children.

“For individuals to see the dancers and talk to them about their stories and about their love of dance, that will inspire a new generation of audience goers,” Freeman said. “And also, hopefully, a new generation of dancers.”

Freeman will be there on Sunday with his own two kids, aged 3 and 6. His daughter, the oldest, had taken dance classes, but the pandemic forced her to stay away. The Nutcracker is part of her reintroduction to the world of dance.

“She’s at least been exposed to the music, but she has not seen the full shows. I am looking forward to seeing her face light up,” Freeman said. “My three-year-old, I’m just looking forward to him sitting in one spot for the entire show.”

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