The title of this blog came from a five-year-old girl with cerebral palsy. Elianna was one of the first studentsin my program of visual and performing arts education for people with special needs. After only a few lessons, Elianna told me that she wants to be a ballerina when she grows up. Elianna cannot walk, but with the assistance of her volunteer, she can dance. When I asked her why she likes dance so much, she said, “Because dancing is beautiful…its like dreaming with your feet.”
In October 2008, we launched our first class of Dance Your Dreams!, our initial Johnny Stallings Arts Program class that was made up of 9 little girls and 1 boy who ranged in age from 4 to 12 and who had either Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism or a couple of other developmental disabilities. We had not met all of the children before the first class met and didn’t quite know what to expect our students to be like, as Hayley Henderson, Artistic Director for the programs, and I had no experience with children who lived with such difficult challenges. We were nervous and unsure of ourselves, feeling an intense fear that we might unwittingly do something wrong that might physically hurt the children. This was, after all, a dance class we were offering, and some of the children were immobile, several were visually or hearing impaired and most of them had language delays that made communication with them difficult. So with a great deal of trepidation mixed with hearts full of excitement, we waited at the front door of Merrimack Hall for the students to arrive for their first class.
We had set up a registration table right inside the front door, and the first child through the door was Elianna, a darling pixie of a girl with a precious bob haircut and adorable wire-rimmed glasses. She barreled through the door in her walker, necessary because her legs are basically immobile due to cerebral palsy, charging full speed ahead to our table. Before we could say, “Hello” to her, she announced, “Hi! My name is Elianna. E-L-I-A-N-N-A. I’m five and a half years old and I’m here to dance.”
Hayley and I locked eyes and shared a look that said, “This little girl is something else, and this isn’t scary – it’s going to be blast!” As we took down her registration information from her dad, Elianna zoomed passed the table, asking which way to go for her dance class. A volunteer pointed her to the elevator, where she pushed the button and started to enter, but her walker got hung up on the threshold. Before anyone could get to her to offer their assistance, I watched her lift up her walker, place it over the threshold and literally lift her little body up and over that barrier. Absolutely nothing was going to stop her from getting on that elevator and heading up to her dance class. And at that moment, watching that sort of bravery and determination from a child so young, my heart was stolen, and I was completely in love.