“This is the happiest thing I’ve ever seen!”

One of my favorite aspects of having CP is ascribing to disability culture. Now, I know some of you may be thinking, “Did I read that right? Disability culture? There are many words that come to mind when I think of disability… but ‘culture’ is definitely not one of them!” Well, join me and my community for a moment.

Yes, we have a culture and a part of our culture that I thoroughly enjoy is our dances. We have dances at so many events- everything from summer camp for disabled kids to conferences for academics in the field of disability studies. We firmly believe that there is room for everyone on our dance floor. Indeed, each individual’s experience is enriched when everyone dances their dance in whatever way they can. Having grown up immersed in disability culture, I forgot how special this is until I saw one of our dances through the eyes of two of my non-disabled friends.

During my first year of college, I was selected to attend a conference in Washington D.C.(D.C.) for disabled young adults who were leaders in their communities. I was beyond thrilled to go and asked one of my friends from school to go with me to assist me with my personal care. I had another friend who was staying in D.C. for the summer and we made plans to hang out the last afternoon of the conference.

The conference was one of the most amazing experiences of my life! I met peers who were as dedicated as I was to social change, listened to speeches given by those with disabilities in the President’s administration, toured the White House and explored D.C. with other college students with all types of disabilities.

By the time the day of the dance came, all of the conference delegates were friends and the women were going to each other’s hotel rooms to borrow this pair of earrings, or those pair of shoes to have the perfect look for the evening’s dance(I have no idea what the guys were doing… probably the male version of this). My friend, who was staying in DC for the summer, walked into all of this when she came to visit me. After the second conference attendee came to my room to let me try her hair clip, I explained what was going on to my friend and invited her to come to the dance. She was hesitant because she didn’t have the right clothes, but I assured her that didn’t matter. She said ok and after she and my other friend helped me finish getting ready(a purple cocktail dress and silver shimmering stockings was my outfit for the evening), the three of us went to the ballroom.

When we got off the elevator, we could hear the music pumping and we saw tons of young adults dressed to the nine making their way to the ballroom. When we arrived at the ballroom, people were already dancing so I turned to my friend pushing my wheelchair, pointed to where I wanted to go on the dance floor and got my groove on. IT WAS A BLAST!!

There were about 60 of us out there on that dance floor. Some bopped their heads to the music because they were paralyzed from the shoulders down, others who were deaf danced close to the speakers to feel the vibrations. Those who could walk jammed on their feet and gave a push to anyone in a wheelchair who needed a hand. We danced with each other, by ourselves and in groups. We danced to the beat, off the beat, around the beat and many did not give two cents about the beat. As a community, we chart our own path off the dance floor, so naturally we chart our own path on the dance floor too. If we saw anyone from our community sitting down, someone went over to get them back out on the dance floor. We wanted everyone included in our celebration because our celebration is only complete when everyone in our community is participating fully!

As I was dancing, I became thirsty and needed a quick break. My friends from college pushed me to one of the tables to the side of the dance floor and helped me drink some water. After my second sip, a guy who was deaf(who I had my eye on the entire conference 🙂 ) came over and signed, “What are you doing? Let’s dance!”

I signed back(quite enthusiastically) “I’m thirsty.”

He stood there until I finished my drink. Once I gave him the ok, he wheeled me back onto the dance floor and we danced the night away. While dancing, I glanced over to see my two friends from college still seated at the table. They were talking about something, but before I could get them back on the dance floor, my attention was redirected to the conga line that was forming. Yes, we do the conga too!

The next day on the plane ride home, my friend and I talked about the dance. My other friend had told her that the dance was “the happiest thing she had ever seen!”

I was struck by that word choice and said “I wonder what she meant by that.”

My friend looked at me and said “At other dances, it is only the best dancers who dance and everyone else just watches. But, last night, everyone danced and everyone had fun.”

Although I had been to many dances where I was the only one with a visible disability and I knew exactly what she meant about dances in the non-disabled setting, I realized that I had taken disability culture for granted. I forgot that our dances are special and unique because they spring out of our understanding of the value of everyone’s dance in our collective identity. So, disability or no disability, get out there and dance… I’ll see you at the front of the conga line!

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