Cerebral Palsy manifests differently for almost every person that has it and everyone’s experiences and struggles with it are as individual as fingerprints. That being said, I can only speak for myself and my own personal experience. I don’t even see myself as fully disabled, really. I’m able to walk around just fine, albeit a tad more slowly. Honestly, the only physical signs that I am any different from the average person are that my right leg and foot turn inward, I have a noticeable limp when I walk, one of my eyes tends to go lazy when I’m tired, my right side is significantly weaker than most people’s non-dominant side, and it sometimes takes me a little longer to grasp certain concepts. That’s it. Other than those few things I am a typical twenty-seven-year-old housewife and dancer.
It has become increasingly clear to me through research for this post and personal experience that the four most common things that are desired most among the disabled community are acceptance, compassion (but not to the point of patronizing), independence and overall, simply to be treated like everyone else. However as I stated above, I can only truly speak for myself. This is exactly the reason why when I encounter someone who is, say, slow of speech, I speak to them at normal tone and speed unless they tell me otherwise. If there is one thing that I ask of anyone that is reading this, it is this: never treat anyone as if they have a lower intelligence just because you expect them to have a lower intelligence. I cannot stress to you enough how damaging it is to be on the receiving end of this.
Along the same vein is the problem that I face as a disabled dancer with other people never seeing beyond how I walk, or how my leg looks on stage. There have been times where people have simplified their speech around me just because they saw me limp into the room. Trust me, I can keep up. There have been people in the audience that have come up to me simply to say how good a dancer I was “for someone like you, with your challenges.” Qualifiers like that completely decimate any recognition of true hard work or bravery, because apparently I will never be as good as a fully “able-bodied” dancer. That’s the sort of thing that needs to come to a grinding halt. I know I may sound bitter to some, but that little reminder every so often that I’ll never be as good as my classmates in the eyes of others slowly eats away at my self-confidence.
This is a battle cry for all dancers, regardless of ability: OWN YOUR DANCE. For those that are disabled, do you have a move that you just cannot master because of your disability’s constraints? Talk to your teacher! I have found in the year and a half that I’ve been in a studio environment that belly dance teachers in particular will bend over backwards (pun intended) to help you succeed.
Don’t call me an inspiration for simply existing. I want to be an inspiration because I’ve done something to earn it. Don’t call me “brave” or “courageous” for getting up on stage just because my leg is a bit twisted. I’m battling heaps of anxiety in the minutes before the music starts just like every dancer around me. We are all together on the same stage, each with our own unique spin on this beautiful craft.
My first performance, Aalim Spring Showcase 2017