Several of the most fun dance experiences I’ve had in the past few years have been at events where a person with a disability was central to the proceedings. Contrary to what some people might expect, participation from the disabled person made the entire dance experience more engaging for everyone there.
One instance was a wedding and the ceremony took place outside, on a beach downhill from a hotel. Everyone walked down a long zig-zag aisle to get to the ceremony location and once the processional began, we could see that this arrangement had been chosen not only for its visual beauty, but also for functional reasons. The Best Man used a wheel chair and the zigs and zags were like a series of ramps, making it possible for him to process down to the beach as a member of the wedding party.
Later, at the reception, the dancing was all right, but really took off when a female guest invited the Best Man onto the dance floor. As he rolled and spun in his chair, and everyone else joined in, the whole event seemed to lift. It was suddenly not about dancing just like your neighbor danced, it was about expressing joy, rhythm, and movement in the ways available to you at that moment. Dancing had become “safer” for everyone.
The Best Man was a good dancer. He was in a wheelchair, but he was a good dancer. My husband leaned over to him and said, “you’ve got some good moves there!” to which he replied, “I had even more a few years ago.” My husband just laughed and said, “Yeah, me too!” and we all danced with all the moves we had on that particular day. It was fun!
Whether we say it overtly or not, people are always seeking that special chemistry that makes a party “gel,” the energy that connects everyone more intensely, the magic that makes an event memorable. Back in the 1950s, politicians used to talk about “making the world safe for democracy.” I’m interested in making the world safe for fun and one of the ways we do that is by being aware of the conditions that allow more people to participate more fully. Making that zig-zag aisle allowed a man in a wheelchair to play an integral role in a major life event for his friend. Including a person in a wheelchair in the dancing made the whole celebration more fun for everyone. We’re not just “doing a favor for a disabled person” when we make our events more inclusive; we’re making our own worlds larger and friendlier. And if we should become disabled at some point in the future, the image of the wheelchair on the dance floor will remind us that there are still many ways to dance.