Each Friday, Gracie has ballet class. This is no small feat for someone with ataxia and peripheral vision loss! She always wanted to be a ballerina, but her disabilities made it nearly an impossible dream. But then, last year, someone shared a video on Facebook that made me Google ballet classes for special needs kids. In our large metro area, there is ONE dance studio for special needs kids. One. It is appropriately named Dancin’ Dreams.
Gracie is able to be a student there because she is assisted at each class by a helper, a physical therapy student at a nearby university (my alma mater, in fact). She has had two helpers per year each year she’s danced there – the helpers switch off weeks so these young ladies don’t have to give up every single Friday night. She loves it.
The ballet studio has closed circuit TV so the parents can watch their kids without being disruptive. Usually, I don’t watch; I take advantage of the uninterrupted hour to do some work. I forgot my work bag tonight though and got to watch my girl dance instead.
I have to say, it’s a little hard to watch. Gracie’s disabilities are readily apparent as the other girls leap and twirl across the floor. She either gets on her knees where she is more secure or falls all over the place or her helper has to provide significant support. Tonight, the little girls did these cute little ballet leaps across the studio floor one at a time. Gracie went last. When it was her turn, I saw her at the corner talking to the teacher and her helper for a minute before she even started. Eventually, she maneuvered over to the barre and held the barre with one hand while her helper held her from the other side. She did these terribly awkward leaps down the length of the barre.
Next, the girls took turns doing cute arabesques as they danced across the floor. Again, Grace went last. Again, she used the barre, with her helper on one side. She tried so hard. It wasn’t quite as hard for her, because one foot was on the ground at all times, but it certainly wasn’t easy.
Finally, the end of class came, and as usual they turned the lights off and did a freestyle dance. With the lights off, Gracie is almost completely blind. This time, during the free dance, the girls had plush snowballs that they were throwing at each other. Not only could Gracie not see the snowballs, she couldn’t feel when they bounced off her. It was hard for this mama to watch—I saw every snowball hit her, but I don’t think she even felt one. I saw the other girls scurrying around gathering the fallen snowballs, but she couldn’t find them at all. To her credit, she did eventually find two of them by the end of the free dance. She didn’t know when one fell out of her hands, but she did find them. That’s huge for her.
Gracie is so smart and precocious, and so familiar, that it’s often easy to forget just how different she is. But then, something like dance class comes along and BOOM, there are her differences on display for all to see. It hurts my heart to watch. She works so hard and will never catch up—she’ll never be able to easily leap across the floor, or find anything in the dark, or be a real ballerina. Part of me would be happy if she never wanted to go back to ballet again. But then, it’s good for her to try. It’s good for her to be like the other kids, even when she’s so different.
We’ll go back to ballet next week, and the next week, and the week after that. She will dance in the recital, helper and all, doing her awkward leaps across the stage. I will bite back those tears and instead be proud of my girl for achieving more than she realistically should be able to. My little Amazing Gracie… she’s, well, amazing.