Dance studios and disability

Ellen Stumbo (whose blog you should be reading anyway, she’s excellent) writes about her negative experience in attempting to enroll her daughter who has Down Syndrome in dance class. (As usual, I have plenty to say on the topic too.)

I’ve written about Namine’s experience in dance before, but I just wanted to chime in on this as well. She uses a wheelchair as her primary means of locomotion — outside home, anyway — and that can be seen as a major deterrent to any organization involved with physical activity.

In the area in which we live, there are several dance studios. They all teach young children, so when Namine expressed interest in taking dance lessons, we called around to see which ones were willing to take on a child in a wheelchair.

Most places, when asked, said they didn’t have a disability class. That’s okay, we said, Namine can just participate with other kids her age. “No, I don’t know think so,” came back the response. There was only one place, Anita’s Dance Center, that was willing to jump in head first. The owner, Anita, said “I don’t know how, but we’ll figure it out together!” They didn’t advertise themselves as accessible — not as we use the word — but a student is a student, no matter the ability. And we did: we figured it out together.

Unfortunately, most dance studios — heck, most people — are intimidated by disability. I don’t want to use the word “frightened,” because that’s not right. But it’s strange. It’s unfamiliar. It is, in its own way, scary. More often than not, people would rather not think about it. Out of sight, out of mind: if I don’t have to think about it, I don’t have to deal with it.

For better or worse, we do have to think about it. We do have to — as crass as this sounds — “deal with it.” It’s our life, after all! And, to be perfectly frank, sooner or later disability is something that nearly everyone will encounter at some point in their life.

But by educating people — hopefully, in part through our writing here — we hope to take some of that scariness away. The only way we’ll get to understanding and compassion is together.

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