for the love of the dance

 

Katie and I are chatting as we walk. Well, Katie’s chatting. I’m listening. And trying to keep up. Good Lord, this child can talk a blue streak. Yes, I know, she comes by it honestly. Thank you.

She’s talking about a boy in her class who she assumes (and we know) is on the spectrum. The same boy who she described in third grade as ‘annoying’. The one who is now ‘a really sweet kid, Mama, he just … ya know, has trouble sometimes.’

It’s amazing what awareness can do to perception.

“It’s just, well, ya know, he gets really silly sometimes in class ’cause he can’t really process stuff the way that we do so instead of talking about how he feels or whatever, his body DOES his feelings.”

I stop walking. In fact, I stop moving completely.

“Mama?”

I turn to her. “Baby, what exactly do you mean by ‘his body DOES his feelings?’”

“Oh. Well, ya know, it’s like if he’s feeling happy – it comes straight out through his body. His body DOES how happy feels. So he gets silly and jumps around and flaps his hands and steals stuff from people’s desks. Cause he’s happy. Know what I mean?”

From “His Body Does His Feelings,” April, 2012

The other day, a reader asked if Brooke liked dance. I was tempted to say no, she doesn’t like it.

Because like isn’t nearly, remotely, not even close to a strong enough word for this ..

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{image is a photo of Brooke on her tiptoes, arms stretched above her head, grinning}

or this …

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{image is a photo of Brooke skipping across the studio with a boy in her class. She is not touching the ground.}

and it comes nowhere close to describing this ..

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{image is a photo of Brooke “marching” in her chair}

The reader said that she was wondering when to try a dance class for her daughter; she didn’t want to start to soon. She asked when we began with Brooke. My answer was that if we had found the right people, there wouldn’t have been a “too soon.”

For Brooke, movement is language. Movement as dance is freedom from restraint, from demand. Dance is joy and connection and community. Dance is flight.

After Brooke’s dance recital last Spring, I wrote the following:

Saturday morning was five years in the making. Five years spent on the outside looking in on the so-tantalizingly-close yet so-desperately-unatainable. Five years of crushing self-doubt. Five years of stubbornly searching for the right people. The people who would not squander our precious hope on empty words and hollow promises but who would walk the walk (or dance the dance, as it were). Who would see it through with consistency and tenacity and an endless supply of good humor and love and the true generosity of spirit that comes with a love, not of the business of dance, but of its soul, of its art, of its very purpose. The people who would SEE our girl exactly where she IS and empower her to explore that place through the movement that she loves so very much. The people who are COMPELLED to showcase for all of us the beauty of the space that not just she, but a world of would-be-dancers inhabit.

And by God, we found them. We found people (or perhaps they found us) who believe that the language of movement is universal and that molding movement into dance cannot be the domain of the select few, but the fundamental birthright of all who claim their stake in human dignity. We found the people who understand that inclusion requires adaptation and adaptation requires respect and respect demands the will to do the work behind the words.

We thought that we’d found them once before. But like a high school crush mistaken for love, the illusion quickly faded, never again to be confused for the real thing — the messy, gritty, in-the-trenches work of marriage — of enduring partnership.

Five years ago, Luau made the heart-wrenching decision to pull Brooke from her dance recital following a disastrous dress rehearsal. The recital was to be the culmination of a year’s work, yet it was not to be. He would write about weeping in the car after pulling the ripcord. There was no right answer then. She was miserable – the entire situation a set up for failure. Awful, combustible, painful failure.

Three years ago we would try again, to no avail. A different situation. The right words. Not the right people.

But damn it, she wanted so badly to dance.

Last summer, Brooke and I were in a coffee shop. Another moment suspended in time. Another game-changing slice of our lives that I will never, ever forget. She was eating her marble pound cake. I was sipping a soy latte. No detail escapes memories this big. Seemingly (but never really) out of nowhere, Brooke said something as if she were in the middle of a conversation. (She was.)

“I did not like my recital when I was five,” she said. “I cried and I cried and I scripted and I didn’t like it.”

Her words took the air in the cafe. I steadied myself against the table.

She’d had no words that I could understand then. She was letting me in now. Four years later, she was letting me in.

I waited to speak. I didn’t trust myself. The moment was frighteningly fragile -–as if she’d handed me a crystal egg, the answers held within. Don’t break it, Mama. You only get once chance at this.

“Do you remember the dress rehearsal, baby?” I asked.

Careful now. Easy.

“I do,” she said. “Evie had a thorn in her foot and she cried. I didn’t like my recital when I was five.”

I didn’t know if I should, but I couldn’t help myself. “Do you think Daddy was right, baby? Not to take you back for the show?”

“I do,” she said. “Evie had a thorn in her foot and she cried and cried. And I did my scripts and I screamed and I cried and didn’t like it at all.”

I was breathless, carrying the precious answers, now free from their glass cage. Luau had done the most right thing in a most wrong situation. I wanted to call him. To tell him then and there. You did the right thing. I know how hard it was. It’s okay. But it would have to wait.

“When will I go to ballet class” she asked, “and be a beautiful ballerina?”

We had tried and failed. And tried again and failed again. Trusting was terrifying.

The glass breaks so easily.

But our girl doesn’t.

And she wanted to try again.

We’d ignored them at first, even though they had presented themselves in two different ways – a recommendation of a friend, a casual question from the ballet school’s director. We were afraid of setting her up for failure AGAIN. Three times would be more than we could bear, far more than she should ever have to bear. But there they were. Waiting.

Having started an adaptive program eleven years earlier to enable children with Down Syndrome to access dance, they’d recently created two different classes for children on the autism spectrum.

They weren’t promising anything they couldn’t deliver. They had done the work. They had the support. They understood the challenges. They adored the children.

When we arrived for our trial class, three people were there to observe Brooke and to help establish an appropriate placement. They had clipboards and checklists and questions. They had open hearts and open arms and the will to do the work behind the words.

They put her in the perfect class, with Mr Gino, a man who would treat them as exactly what they were — equals. Who would, every single Saturday, show up ready to play, to engage, to open, to share, to steward.

A man who respects his dancers as much as he does the dance. A man who would change the dress code of the showcase from the simple class uniform to “whatever the dancers are most comfortable in” because it meant the world to one dancer in particular to wear her special, beautiful ballerina dress.

Yes, after five years, my girl would have her recital.

My husband would weep again, but for very different reasons.

And me? Well, I would break wide open and be filled in all the broken places with the belief in the real possibility of a life made up of moments like that one.

The recital this year will be on Sunday. We will be out of town, on a long-planned trip (more on that tomorrow). We were heartbroken when we realized that she would miss it. But together, we came up with a plan. (When I say ‘together,’ I mean mostly Brooke with our enthusiastic support.)

Brooke decided, on her own, that she will perform her recital for us on Sunday in our hotel room. We’re not leaving until tomorrow, but she has already packed her princess dress and a small group of “guys” (dolls and figurines) who will join us in the audience. It is a great plan, but we couldn’t let her end the season without something special. And, of course, the amazing folks who run the adaptive program at Boston Ballet were only too happy to indulge. They allowed her to wear her recital outfit for the last class that she would attend for the season. They encouraged us to bring chairs into the studio and be, as she called us, her official audience. They welcomed her Grammy and Grandpa DD who came up for the occasion. And they happily adopted her name for the class, the reHital – her delicious hybrid for the rehearsal for the recital. The program director, who was out of town on Saturday, even sent a note wishing Brooke a wonderful reHital. It just doesn’t get any better. And a wonderful reHital it was.

These were some of the moments that life was made up of that day.

 

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{image is a photo of Brooke leading the class. She is making faces and bidding them to follow along.}

And this one ..

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{image is a photo of Brooke grinning at Mr. Gino, who is managing to look very serious.}

And this one …

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{image is Brooke’s favorite picture of herself “sticking my tongue out at myself” in the mirror. Mr. Gino is trying, unsuccessfully, not to laugh.}

And this one …

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{image is a photo of Brooke “swimming” into the center of the studio for the Yellow Submarine dance. While all of her classmates chose to do some version of the crawl or the breaststroke, she, of course, did the backstroke. I love my kid.}

And this one …

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{image is a photo of Brooke acting as the submarine captain in the Yellow Submarine dance. She sang along, but changed the words to “a red and blue submarine” because, duh, the chairs are red and blue, not yellow.}

And this one …

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{image is a photo of Brooke preparing for the class bow, which she initiated, because, ya know, audience.}

And this one …

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{image is a photo of Brooke holding her flowers after the reHital. She is glowing.}

Because of people like this one  ..

DSC_0345

{image is one of my favorite photos of all time, of Brooke and Mr. Gino being silly together.}

Every bit of why this place is so sacred, why it works, why Brooke feels so safe and free inside its walls comes down to one thing ..

Respect.

It’s in every picture you see here and it is the lifeblood of this program.

With respect we build trust.

With trust we engender comfort.

With comfort, we invite joy.

A thousand thanks once again — always — to Boston Ballet for all that you do to give my girl a place to dance.

 –

For more information on Boston Ballet’s Adaptive Dance programs, click HERE.

Ed notes: I cover the other kids’ faces with hearts out of respect for their privacy. I apologize that it looks a little odd, but I will never post photos without permission, which means we’d have no photos to share.

Huge thanks to Grandpa DD, better known in real life as professional photographer, David Land of Terrbayte Studios, for the photos. The tangible record of Brooke’s joy are a gift beyond measure.

8 thoughts on “for the love of the dance

  1. The Adaptive Dance Program of the Boston Ballet and, most especially Mr. Gino, is incredible. We are so blessed for Brooke and for us. Her happiness is contagious, yet again.

    Love you,
    Mom

  2. How wonderful! What a terrific program, and what a terrific girl.

    We had a performance-related experience with Baguette last week. I want to blog about it–I just need the time to get it right, because it meant so much. I love to see and read posts about Brooke finding the ways and the times to express her Brooke-ness, because that’s what I want for Baguette as well.

  3. ::bawling::

    This is…beyond beautiful. Brooke is beautiful, you are beautiful, and I can completely identify with holding your breath, waiting for the rest of the story, afraid to break the moment, wanting to ask but afraid to push too hard.

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful, inspiring, empowering story of failure and overcoming.

    If only I’m so successful with my ASD kiddo! ((Hugs))

  4. This is awesome! Also, my body does my feelings too. I have never said it that well! Hilariously, I am “dyspraxic” – so my feelings are clumsy in every language 😉 Love, Ib

  5. You and Brooke are amazing! I love this blog and I love pictures of her. She really has a joy that just leaps off the computer screen in this ReHital blog entry. She’s amazing and I’m happy she (and you) have found Mr. Gino!!

  6. I am also a dancey-dance party movementy-talking autistic girl, so like…This is AWESOME. Both of my parents played sports and are very athletic, and my mom’s side of the family is full of dancers (she was a really good ballet dancer when she was younger). I also had dance class/recitals when I was five. And I also hated them. Because normal-people-ballet-class is all like…being still and being slow and doing things in the order they tell you and not being loud and all of those things were things I suck at. The solution for me (in part since I was very verbal, and had an much easier time interacting with my NT peers than Brooke has had) was team sports, which I’ve always loved and excelled at. And I still love to dance, and always have.

    I don’t know if I can even describe how it feels, but I know that when I’m moving (either dancing or playing sports) I always am smiling. And I’m often not a very smiley person. But I just can’t even help it. I’m a really kinesthetic person, so movement and rhythm and stuff are actually like…the material my body is made out of. I can’t describe it any other way. (I wrote a post on me experiencing language through kinesthetic things the other day: http://emmapretzel.wordpress.com/2014/05/02/language-part-one-of-infinity/)

    Basically, I look at those pictures of Brooke and I…know that feeling. It’s the best. Being shamed for moving when I was little was so painful for me, and I know that when I could express movement and be celebrated and appreciated, it was actually just sheer joy. I am so happy for her.

  7. These photos are just stunning! You can see Brooke’s pure joy emanating from each one. You are so fortunate to have found such a wonderful program for her and a kind-hearted teacher in Mr. Gino.

    It took me a long time to find a safe place for my son to experience a different kind of love- soccer, but the right teacher can make all the difference! You can find my story here- changedforgoodautism.blogspot.com

    All the best- and enjoy Disney!

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