Dancing Around Prejudice.

My son goes through phases.  Sometimes, he loves to listen to music.  Sometimes, the music has to be off.  Right now, we’re kind of in neutral, neither pro nor anti music.  When we are in the pro music cycle, oh, look out!  My smiling little lady killer bends at the knees and bops up and down.  Not side to side.  No wiggle.  Just bopping up and down bouncing to the beat, head and body.  He does this dance while looking at everyone else for approval.  But it doesn’t stop there.  His look says “Dance with me,” and the unspoken command is irresistible!  Everyone who comes in contact with “the dance” must sway and bop to the music.  And it always brings smiles and laughter to everyone.

That is why, early on, I decided that dance would be our special activity.  Not karate, t-ball,  or soccer.  Dance.   I researched it and found the perfect spot.  A dance school right across the street from pre-school with a pee-wee hip-hop class once a week.  We walked in, checked it out and left with some papers.  But dance was put on hold with the commencement of intensive behavioral therapy.   The consensus was that it would be too much to add dance in the mix at this point.

With five full months of therapy complete, I suggested dance to our therapists.  I advocated that dance would be great for socialization and for coordination.  The therapists agreed to provide an aide to assist in the class.  I was so excited!  Social skills, interaction with his peers, and the joy of watching him perform hip hop moves!!  Yay!

Wait a minute…

There was a minor detail.  I had to call to see if the dance school was accepting new students.  They were.  And since I had the dance school on the phone, a question.  My son was 4 years and 7 months old but large for his age. Should he be in the pee-wee group (ages 3.5 to Pre-K) or the mini hip hop for ages K-2nd grade?  Maybe mini would be more suitable for him.  Oh one more thing, I added, because he’s autistic, he will have an aide with him to help him out.  Awkward silence.

“Well, I will have to get approval from the owners to allow that,”  she said.  “What?” I asked.  “What do you mean, approval?”  “Well, we don’t usually allow that.”  “Allow what?”  “Allow others to come into the class.”  I found myself premising my next comment with “Well, I don’t know how much experience you have with autistic children….” and then telling her the purpose of the aide was to help him respond to the dance teacher, to help him comply with direction.  She told me she would call me back. She might need a release of liability.  Could she have my number?  Immediately, I gave her my office number at our small law firm.  I told her I could provide her with a release.  I understood.  I was a lawyer, after all.

When I hung up, I felt strange.  Was this creepy feeling just my imagination?  Was I imagining that my son had just been snubbed, sight unseen because I used that word – “autism”?  Was this prejudice?  Prejudice against an innocent beautiful little boy? And shouldn’t I just immediately recognize prejudice?

These several thoughts ran through my mind.  Before I even hung up, I sensed it.  That is why I threw in that I was a lawyer.  I used my degree for any remotely perceived advantage it might gain me.

Fueled by my doubts were the what ifs?  What if she did not call back?  What if she said they would not accept my child at their school?  I did not practice this kind of law…isn’t there some kind of Americans with Disabilities Act that would be violated by refusing to allow my son to participate?  (Yes.) Wasn’t there also a California based law?  (Yes, the Unruh Act.)  Would I fight them legally? (Unknown.) Would I simply let it go and look for another dance school?  (Probably not.)

None of the what if’s materialized.  The dance school called back to say they would provide me with, not just one, but two free classes to see if it was what my son and I wanted!  They offered me the opportunity to watch both the pee-wee and the mini classes to decide which would be best for my son.  And yes, the aide was welcome.  They were very kind and accommodating.

So then, I had a few new thoughts. Were they only nice because I exercised my big “legal” mouth?  Am I simply a nutjob with an overactive imagination?  Or really, was it because the girl answering the phone simply didn’t know what to do?  Was she,  and are most people, really kind, compassionate and well-meaning?

I don’t know the answer yet.  I’ll get back to you.  It’s still all too new.


About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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8 Responses to Dancing Around Prejudice.

  1. Erika says:

    If he ever wants to Lindy Hop to Big Band music, I’m his girl!

  2. Lisa Ashmore says:

    Hey I love dancing too.

  3. Meg says:

    I truly believe that the dance school was just following policy and was not discriminating. I had some mother’s who came with their kids to the yoga/english lesson that I taught in our village. Some were very supportive. Others just sat in the back and chatted away. Some children were fine. Some, when coupled with their mommies, refused to follow my lead and it made the class very hard. I believe the school was just following policy. I hope that your son can have a ball dancing away. The school seems to be very supportive, and I hope your son can have some fun. The most important message up until now is: You son is wayyyy smarter than all the adults around him. He could quit school and open his own dance class. He could also have a stairs class as well.

    • Meg says:

      correction: mothers’

    • solodialogue says:

      I want to believe it too, Meg but when we went to check out the class after I wrote this, the same woman then told me that my son still has to be “accepted” into the class after the trial classes Both the behavioral therapist and I are feeling this was odd. To be continued….

  4. Wow. I never even considered that something so simple like a dance class might make enrollment a challenge for a child with a disability. I just assumed that they would gladly accept my money — if my child made it and was able to dance along, great. And if not… well, she’d just be that one awkward kid at the recital. No big deal.

    My daughter is in Gymboree right now — level 6 (age 30-36 mos). At 35 mos., she’s really not ready for level 6, but it’s the only class that fits into our schedule and she has grown to love going so much. The teacher has been so accommodating and has been nothing but supportive of my daughter’s clumsiness and “different” behaviors. I guess I just assumed that all businesses catering to kids’ activities would be this way.

    I hope you find a light at the end of the tunnel on this one an will be quietly rooting for you and your son. Hopefully, in another month, we’ll all look back at this post and laugh at the uncertainty!


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