Festival of Human Abilities at the Aquarium of the Pacific returns in person with fan-favorite talent

The Aquarium of the Pacific’s annual festival celebrating the talents and creativity of people with disabilities is returning for its 19th year in Long Beach and, this time, back in person.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the aquarium relegated last year’s Festival of Human Abilities to online viewing, but now guests may once again enjoy the aquarium’s two-day festival that will feature music, art, dance and demonstrations while also taking in the aquarium’s varied sea-life and exhibitions on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 29 and 30.

Some of the festival’s most popular performers are slated to return, including classical guitarist and singer Dat Nguyen, who is blind, (performing only on Jan. 29), The Rollettes, an all-female dance troupe with members who perform in wheelchairs and Zendrea Mitchell, a poet and ASL professor, who will present an American sign language musical performance.

Cambodia Town’s Homeland Cultural Center will also take part, featuring hip-hop routines with Mike “Iceman” Rivera and the rest of the Homeland crew showcasing dancers of any and all capability.

During the festival, attendees can check out art demonstrations and take part in several creative workshops including an adaptive dance class with Straight Up Abilities and a sign language class.

Every year the festival includes a special scuba diving demonstration and this year founder Jim Elliott of Diveheart, an Illinois non-profit that employs scuba therapy, will present “Imagine the Possibilities: Learning to Fly Through Scuba,” an adaptive demonstration.

This festival will include sign language interpreters, and the aquarium will have visitor guides in braille and audio tours available for guests who are blind.

In addition to the stellar talent presented each year, the aquarium also honors an exemplary person to receive the Glenn McIntyre Heritage Award, an honor given for outstanding service to people with disabilities. This year’s recipient is Caley Verfelt, a motivational speaker, a swimmer who competed in the Special Olympics and an actor who many might recognize from her appearances on the shows “Born This Way,” “The Good Doctor” and the “Needs to Bake” reality show.

Through Versfelt’s organization, Tides of Kindness, she speaks at conferences and other events to encourage everyone to develop self-confidence, pursue their dreams and spread kindness.

The festival is included with the cost of general admission to the aquarium which is $36.95 for adults, $26.95 for children ages 3 to 11 and $33.95 for seniors 62 and older. It is free to aquarium members and children younger than 3. Capacity is limited and advanced reservations are highly encouraged. The Aquarium of the Pacific requires its attendees’ ages 2 and older to wear a mask both indoors and outdoors.

Click here to reserve and purchase tickets.

Full schedule of programming is as follows:

Saturday, Jan. 29
  • 10 a.m. Mariachi singing performance by Guillermo Gomez / Honda Blue Cavern
  • 10:30 a.m. Penguins Film / Great Hall
  • 11:10 a.m. American Sign Language (ASL) Class / Marine Life Theater
  • 11:30 a.m. Dance Performance by Straight up Abilities / Honda Pacific Visions Theater
  • 12:10 p.m. Beauty of Coral Reefs Film / Great Hall
  • 12:15 p.m. American Sign Language Musical Performance – Zendrea Mitchell / Honda Blue Cavern
  • 1 p.m. Hip Hop Wheelchair Dance—The Rollettes / Honda Pacific Visions Theater
  • 1 p.m. Adaptive Dance Class with Straight Up Abilities / Watershed Classroom
  • 1:30 p.m. Beauty of Coral Reefs Film / Great Hall
  • 1:45 p.m. Classical Guitar Performance—Dat Nguyen / Honda Blue Cavern
  • 2:15 p.m. Wheelchair Painting Demonstration—Tommy Hollenstein – Veranda
  • 2:30 p.m. Hip Hop Dance – Mike “Ice Man” Rivera and Homeland Crew / Honda Pacific Visions Theater
  • 3 p.m. Beauty of Coral Reefs Film / Great Hall
  • 3:15 p.m. Music performance—Per Se / Honda Blue Cavern
  • 3:45 p.m. Imagine the Possibilities: Learning to fly through Scuba—Jim Elliot of Diveheart / Ocean Theater
  • 4 p.m. Glenn McIntyre Heritage Awards Ceremony Honoring Caley Versfelt / Honda Pacific Visions Theater
  • 4:45 p.m. Penguins Film / Great Hall
Sunday, Jan. 30
  • 10:30 a.m. Penguins Film / Great Hall
  • 11:10 a.m. American Sign Language (ASL) Class / Marine Life Theater
  • 11:30 a.m. Dance Performance by Straight up Abilities / Honda Pacific Visions Theater
  • 12:10 p.m. Beauty of Coral Reefs Film / Great Hall
  • 12:15 p.m. American Sign Language Musical Performance—Zendrea Mitchell / Honda Blue Cavern
  • 1 p.m. Hip Hop Wheelchair Dance—The Rollettes / Honda Pacific Visions Theater
  • 1 p.m. Adaptive Dance Class with Straight Up Abilities/Watershed Classroom
  • 1:30 p.m. Beauty of Coral Reefs Film / Great Hall
  • 2:15 p.m. Wheelchair Painting Demonstration—Tommy Hollenstein – Veranda
  • 2:30 p.m. Hip Hop Dance—Mike “Ice Man” Rivera and Homeland Crew / Honda Pacific Visions Theater
  • 3 p.m. Beauty of Coral Reefs Film / Great Hall
  • 3:15 p.m. Music performance—Per Se / Honda Blue Cavern
  • 3:45 p.m. Imagine the Possibilities: Learning to fly through Scuba—Jim Elliot of Diveheart / Ocean Theater
  • 4:45 p.m. Penguins Film / Great Hall

The Aquarium of the Pacific is at 100 Aquarium Way. Festival will open to the public at 9 a.m. with programming starting at 10 a.m. on Jan. 29 and at 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 30. Festival ends at 5 p.m. both days.

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Cheantay Jensen is reporter and award-winning videographer who covers entertainment, art, food and culture for the Hi-lo section of the Long Beach Post. And sometimes breaking news, you know, just to keep things interesting.
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