by Rachel Zook
Two years ago, I had a conversation with a good friend about her daughter’s ballet classes. I remember going home and thinking over and over about how much I would love to have Emma in ballet class. She had just turned four and was still using a walker part time and a wheelchair part time as well. However, she loved dancing and music, and that made me really think that she would love ballet. I talked with my husband, and he encouraged me to take the leap of faith and contact the ballet studio.
After thinking about it, I wrote an email to the owner and told her all about Emma. I shared that she uses a walker, special shoes with ankle braces to help her stand; she was really tiny, but that she was sweet and listened well. I remember asking her if her studio, “Was willing to work with a child with special needs?” It was not very long before I got back a big fat yes! She really wanted to work with us to enroll Emma in their six-week princess summer class. We swapped many emails and phone conversations and worked out the kinks. I went and bought her first little pink leotard with sweet little skirt attached, pink tights and a big pink bow for her hair. I was nervous but so excited to see how it would go.
The day finally came. I loaded my ballerina and her walker in the car and headed to the dance studio. They had to relocate due to a flood that had hit our area two months before, and were being housed on a second story of a building with no elevator. I had to carry Emma and her walker up the stairs, but it ended up being so worth it. Emma loved being in the class and did so well. Her teacher would help her get up and get back to her walker, the kids in the class would move out of her way, and Emma was able to do most moves with some modifications. She would smile the whole thirty minutes of the class.
She did two summers of classes before learning to walk the second year. We decided that since she loved it so much, we would enroll her in an all-year-long dance class. Every Saturday we would put on her dance clothes, pack her bag with her very tiny ballet shoes and tap shoes (we had to special order for her tiny feet though she no longer needed braces to stand) and Emma would run into the studio and sit on her star waiting on her class to start. She would tap to the music, twirl across the floor, and tumble down the mats just like her friends. This year, not only did she learn to walk and no longer used her walker in ballet class, but she also received hearing aids and could hear the teacher and music.
Ballet has been the best thing for Emma. It has helped her gain friends, confidence, and allowed her inner princess to bloom. She would ask us everyday if it was, “pretty day or not.” A few weeks ago, she was in her first recital complete with costumes and roses afterwards. She loved being on the big stage under the lights. I loved standing in the wings watching with tears in my eyes as my daughter who is hard-of-hearing and physically challenged shined in her sparkles and tutus. In the audience there was a row full of crying family members who have stood by Emma from day one.
It has not always been easy to find ways to include her in everyday play activities of normal children. However, it has always been worth it. I am so glad that I took a leap of faith and contacted her wonderful dance studio. The director cried right with me, as she reminded me that I made her cry when I asked, “would you be willing to work with a child with special needs?”