He danced, in his own way, he danced his little heart out. He danced sitting down. He knew his steps, he would practise them over and over again until he had them nailed down. He can’t remember short sequences you see, he has to memorise everything so that he knows when it’s his turn to shine. Everything through repetition.
I will go back a little bit to the beginning of this episode in the boy’s life.
After the infuriating physio appointment I decided it was time to do things my own way. Never again was I going to seek permission for him to try something new in his life.
By this time you see, he was already heading for surgery number 10. It wasn’t booked, it wasn’t on the immediate cards but it had become apparent over the previous 9 years that he would require at least one surgical procedure roughly every 12 months to keep his legs straight enough that he could actually use them. How much more damage could dancing actually cause? None as far as I was concerned, his legs were weak, poor muscle tone, no sensation from waist to toes. Really, they were beyond rescue, but the surgeon kept on trying. He wanted to keep the boy upright for as long as possible. There would be time enough to sit in a blasted wheelchair he used to say. Another excellent doctor. Wonderful, compassionate man who saw the determination to walk in the boy’s eyes and matched it with his own skill and precision to give him a fighting chance.
But, If he didn’t get to be a kid and try the things he wanted to try, live his life doing the fun stuff that other kids got to do by default, what was the point of it all? Kid first disabled second. Life is made up of your experiences and memories, he would know some good ones if it killed me in the process!
So, the phone book, it is a really old fashioned way of finding a service, a phone number etc for something that you need. It was all we had in those days! I love the internet!!
Anyway, I flicked to the Dance school pages. There were 365 different dance schools, teachers, classes etc for every kind of dance you could put a name to. I rang them all. They all said the same thing and the conversation went a bit like this.
Me: Hi, I’m looking for a dance teacher for my 9 year old son?
Dance teacher: Oh yes, we take boys as well as girls! Has he danced before?
me: No. He’s never danced before but he has developed a passion for it after watching everything Michael Flatley for the last two years.
Dance teacher: Ahh, we get a lot of children who want to dance because of him! I run classes for beginners on saturday 10am till 12 noon. Why don’t you bring him along?
Me: That’s great, there is just one other small consideration though.
Me: (dropping the bombshell) He is disabled. He desperately wants to learn how to dance, and I wondered if it was possible to teach him the basic steps while he’s sitting down. He can swing his leg from the knee but his ankle is locked tigh….
Teacher: (FURIOUS) IS THIS A PRANK CALL? STOP WASTING MY TIME!
She hung up.
The second one ended the call saying her insurance probably wouldn’t cover him if he had an accident. Have you thought about wheelchair sports for him? He could do that couldn’t he? Nice chatting, BYE!
The third then the fourth right the way through to the 364th said one or the other of the above, there were variations but they were all on the same theme.
I was desperate, I was in tears, I was at the stage where I thought I may have to dust off my old dance training manuals from way back when and teach him myself, but that wasn’t what he needed. He needed inclusion. He needed the whole experience not just a tiny part of it.
I picked up the phone, I was utterly dejected now, and I dialled the last number. I waited for the call to go through, she answered on the 4th ring.
I began my spiel again, she said her bit, I said mine, then the bombshell at the end.
Dance teacher: That’s fine love, if he wants to dance, then who am I to say no? I think private lessons would be better to start off with and then when he is feeling confident he can join in the group sessions to train for the summer show!
I took the phone away from my ear and stared at it in utter disbelief and shock!
Me: Did you just say yes?
Her: Yes I did.
I could hear the smile in her voice and I loved this woman to death instantly!
He was going to do it, he was going to learn to dance. I rounded up the final details and I ended the call. I was crying, I was laughing, I even hugged myself and danced around the front room. He was going to do it, he was going to dance!
My boy was going to get to be a kid!
One of my proudest moments as a Mama was the day I took him to buy his first pair of tap shoes. His face… I can close my eyes today, 20 years later and still see the beaming smile that lit his whole face up. It was worth every single hard moment, every single one of those 365 phone calls, it was worth not killing the physiotherapist and going to prison for a very long time.
He danced his little heart out, he had a special chair that he sat on, provided by the dance teacher’s husband who designed and built it for him when he saw the difficulties we faced with standard chairs. Balance was also an issue for him, his core strength has always been quite weak and he needed support on both sides or he would lean and fall.
Mr Dance teacher hubby fixed the problem.
The boy learned his basic steps and then two whole routines that he would perform in the summer show that the dance school put on every year for the summer season.
For one day a week, the boy sat, centre stage, doing his steps while the other kids danced around him, he was King Neptune and Captain Hook and the kids loved it, he was ruler of the seas and then the biggest scoundrel ever to grace them (In Disney’s world anyway). In reality he sat on a dressed up chair and swung his feet, making the correct tapping noises in time to the music. In his head he was flying across that stage with ‘feet of flames’ just like his hero Michael Flatley.
The summer season finally came to an end and it had been a resounding success. The Manager of the theatre came out of his office every week and watched the show! After the final show he came back stage to shake the boy’s hand. Then he asked him if he would like to go back on stage in the Winter and play the role of Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol. (Scrooge’s part was already taken, so I missed out)
The boy looked at me, I looked at his face, I saw the wish in his eyes and we said YES!
The manager handed me a copy of the script and said rehearsals begin in two weeks! See you back here for more fun!
So, we now had two weeks for him to completely memorise that entire script so that he knew when he needed to say his lines. He was the best damn prompter that stage company ever had! They loved being on stage with him because they knew he would be whispering their lines!
It was nearly time…