Hanging on Lyla’s bedroom wall is a tiny pink ballet outfit. I bought it for her a couple of years ago, at a time when many of her little friends were starting ballet and dance classes and it made my heart hurt that there was nowhere that Lyla could go to join in. So I bought her the pink ballet outfit because it made me feel that at least she could look the part even if it was just for me. She had never actually worn it, after buying it I just couldn’t bring myself to put it on her.
Then a few weeks ago a lovely friend sent me a link to Ballet Bees, a ballet class starting locally, (East Kilbride), for sick and disabled children, the timing was perfect. After all the therapy hours, hospital appointments and equipment trials we really wanted Lyla to do something that was just for fun. Finally this was a class where she could join in with other kids and have fun dancing in her own way. The class started the following weekend, I took the pink ballet tutu off the hanger and put it on Lyla. It fitted and it looked more beautiful on her than I could have imagined. She was loving how pretty she looked and felt. To make it more special she wore the ballet cardigan that my aunt made for me when I did ballet as a little girl – props to Nana for keeping it safe all these years.
We had talked about the class all week and she was so excited that when we arrived she was a bit overwhelmed and wouldn’t let Kris or I out of her sight. Each child has a young ballet student who is assigned to help them join in with the dancing and push wheelchairs if required. On that first class Kris and I took turns being the assistant but by the next week Lyla was comfortable enough to let the her ballet qualified assistant take over and there was no looking back. She loves dancing and smiles the whole time. She moves her arms and legs with purpose and loves being part of the group. Lyla is independently enjoying a normal activity with other kids, just for fun. The benefits to her self esteem are endless.
Thinking about it more I will admit that, with hindsight, I didn’t ask any of the local dance schools two years ago whether they would accept a child in a wheelchair. Many of the buildings they were in didn’t have easy wheelchair access to start with and at that time I wasn’t confident enough to deal with rejection or awkwardness. I felt that it wasn’t something that the majority of classes would be willing to explore or if they did it would be a case of someone needing to push Lyla around the class and help her take part, which would probably end up being me, or Lyla being left out of parts that weren’t possible for her to join in rather than the class being designed around all kids and all abilities.
I understand that this possibly isn’t realistic for a class once kids get older and ballet seems to takes a more serious turn but when kids are 3-6 years old at least I would have thought this wasn’t too much to ask, but I never did. Maybe that was for the best and Lyla is now having a better and more inclusive experience? This and a few other things recently have made me think about inclusion and what it means to me. I think that’s a post for the future.
I am so happy that Lyla loves her dance class and that she is getting so much out of belonging to a group which focuses on her abilities rather than her disabilities. On another note it’s Daddy’s job to take Lyla to ballet each week, it’s a lovely thing for her to do with her and it’s providing him with a great opportunity to meet other parents and carers too. We all look forward to this being a part of my tiny dancer’s week for a long time to come.