Dancing For Their Lives

The Bahá’ís have been celebrating Ayyam-i-Há, the “leftover days” in their calendar when hospitality and generosity are – even more than usual – the order of the day. The Sunday school had cut its morning classes in favour of an afternoon fair. Alongside class presentations on their chosen community service projects, and general funsies, there was a jaw-dropping artistic presentation that I felt lucky to see. The DanceAbility group in my town gathers mentally and physically disabled teens and adults and makes a performance ensemble out of them.

I must say, I had my doubts. I’ve spent a lot of time in schools, especially senior elementary and secondary ones where kids can be extremely self-conscious and, consequently, at times rather cruel. The test came early for our audience, mainly composed of kids from 4 years to 15. The first piece was an improvisational dance, a duet between the instructor – an attractive, well-trained and graceful woman – and another young woman, this one short and rather round and profoundly affected by Down’s Syndrome. It was odd and it was beautiful. There were themes that influenced their movement to the simple live musical accompaniment, and the instructor would sometimes very gently suggest the next type of movement. The guide’s willingness to risk and her affection and respect for her partner were gorgeous, and so was their simple ballet. The kids were wide-eyed. So was I.

Before the performance, I’d shot a few hoops in the second gym with Robert, one of the dancers, and his younger brother. Robert was enthusiastic and warmly encouraging to his more reticent li’l bro while we shared that peculiar kinship of boys and a basketball. 22 years old, tall and goateed, Robert was also deeply serious about DanceAbility’s work. I loved the intensity, the fearlessness that he brought to his performances. (I have so much to learn from him.) And I needn’t have worried, because the kids at the Suzanne Sabih School, from kindergarteners to high schoolers, were reverently attentive during the dancing and loudly admiring in their applause. Dozens of them jumped up to join in a closing improv piece that united performers and audience. Melt.

Art does the darnedest things. Have you noticed?

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