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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the word “disabled.” It is an all-encompassing statement. It insinuates that a person is less than adequate… lacking functional qualifications…. Using the label creates an invisible hierarchy of overall worth. What has become clear to me over time, dancing with a community that is labeled as “disabled,” is that often times these individuals are far more ABLED with gifts and abilities, than someone who would be placed in the more “normal” category.

Val 3 I have found that when I turn on the music and instruct the class to clap along with me, the joy they feel in connecting with the music spreads clearly across their face. Sometimes there are individuals who don’t feel like participating physically, but they simply wish to feel the music wash over them. I have many participants who have no fear in connecting with a new person. First thing they want to do is tell me their favorite songs.

During my most recent visit to United Cerebral Palsy I encountered a woman who is Phil Collins’ biggest fan. She wanted to sing one of her favorites, “I wish it would rain.” She sang out loud and proud from her wheel chair as the rest of us listened and moved to her music. She inspired another resident to sing a song of his own and so we danced along to his rendition of the Beatles “I wanna hold your hand.” Inhibitions were nowhere to be found. There were no thoughts of what others might think of their song choice or whether they’d be judged if they sang out of tune. They shared what was precious to them right from the start. There wasn’t any digging or reading between the lines.

Val 3I think these qualities that allow someone to share who they truly are help any individual function on a higher level within their community. That’s true whether you are a resident at UCP, brainstorming on a team to create new technology, engaging with a customer in sales, out on a date looking for love, living with family and friends, or in a room creating a Broadway show…. Feeling free to be who you are and sharing that with others happens each time I visit.

I have often observed that people out in the “normally functioning” world, struggle with this ability to freely be who they are. Now, who would be labeled “disabled” if we were measuring the quantity of authenticity and willingness to share? Whether we are able bodied or not we have gifts to share. Whether our brains function is a similar way to one another or drastically differ, we have gifts to share. After my movement classes, I feel like the residents have given me a gift. Hierarchies have vanished. I see we all have worth because we all love something. We all feel joy and have the ability to show the joy we feel with others. We each can create a domino affect of positivity. And all we have to do is show up and be who we are.

The combination of music, movement, and honesty is powerful! I walk away from my classes and am more free to give joy to those I encounter elsewhere in my life. And perhaps “disabled” is NOT the term I would use to describe the community I dance with at UCP. They are ABLE to do so much…. Especially for me.

– Val Salgado

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