Sweet Girl, I Hope You Dance

Jodi Shenal by Jodi Shenal Additional Needs

Jodi Shenal

Jodi Shenal

I'm a stay-at-home mom with two amazing children. My son is on the Autism spectrum and my daughter has a rare genetic disorder and multiple disabil...

Have you ever heard an old song playing that just tugged at your heart and made the tears flow?  Were you ever driving somewhere as it came on the radio and you listened, knowing you should probably just switch the channel, before becoming a total mess?  I have.  Words can take on a different meaning and they find a way of grabbing you tightly by the emotions, when you’re the parent of a child with complex special needs.  There’s one line, one single, solitary song lyric that sends me into an ugly sob-fest, every single time.

“And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.”

I’ve sat in the audience at many dance recitals.  Over the years, I’ve proudly watched my niece, a talented dancer, take command of the stage with grace and elegance.  When the time comes for the younger children to perform, a lump always forms in my throat.  Some of the tiny dancers, years younger than my eight-year old daughter, scan the crowd, seeking the reassurance of their mothers.  Some watch their instructor and attentively follow along, while others fiercely assert their independence by doing their own thing.

With my own daughter being unable to walk independently, and predominantly relying on the use of her wheelchair, it’s always a reminder of something she’s not been given a choice to do.  She’s always had to sit it out.  Time and time again, I find myself blinking back tears and thinking to myself, “It’s not fair that Ryleigh can’t do that.”  It's HARD to observe children taking part in something that your own child is unable to do.  My daughter is completely fascinated by music. She loves to clap and nod her head along with the beat.  I bet if she were given the choice, she’d love to dance.

The art of dance is a universal language.

Everyone should be able to feel the joy of moving their body to music, despite any physical or intellectual disabilities.  Having additional needs shouldn’t take away anyone’s chance to participate.  Thankfully, our daughter’s Physical Therapist and her colleague had that precise vision.  Today, thanks to the heart and dedication of these thoughtful instructors, I had the privilege to sign my daughter up for an all-inclusive dance class! No one is turned away.  EVERYONE is welcome.  She will have the opportunity to be included, as this class caters to children of ALL abilities. She’ll even have her very own “buddy” to help her, every step of the way!  We’ll show up with all her gear; her walker and orthotic leg braces in tow.  She’ll have all the tools that she needs to help her live this occasion up to the fullest!

I don’t know how she’ll react to being on a stage, with an audience, taking part in a performance.  I will be right there, to rescue her, if needed.  No matter what, she will get her well-deserved chance.  If she doesn’t love it, I won’t force her to stay.  If she would rather sit it out, that’s okay by me.  For once, she will have the CHOICE.  Watching her from the audience, seeing her dance, is something I have always dreamt of.  I’m excited for her to embrace this opportunity.  I’m elated to see her experience such a gift.  Sweet girl, I hope you dance.


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