What True Acceptance Looks Like—My Daughter’s Dance Class

What Acceptance Looks Like (image)

Courtney WestlakeCourtney Westlake
Blogger at blessedbybrenna.com | Mom of Two
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“I want to take a class like Connor!”

The request began to come in weekly as I dropped Connor off at gymnastics class last year, and Brenna watched all of the young kids head into the gym together to swing on the bars, dance, tumble and play games.

CourtneyWestlake2And so, at the start of the school year, we enrolled Brenna in dance class at the same gym.

From the beginning, there were no questions. There were no stares, no looks of pity, and nothing about the staff or the other participating families even suggested that Brenna’s appearance or abilities were different than any other child in that class. As with her school, Brenna was just another kid at dance class.

It was a true testament to the gym, because we don’t have this kind of experience often in settings like this. Our whole experience with Brenna’s dance class opened my eyes to what acceptance truly looks like: welcoming without questions, inclusion without pity, participation without staring or assumptions. Belonging, just as you are.

The only questions ever asked were to better understand how Brenna’s condition and abilities might affect her performance, with the goal of helping her grow stronger and more capable, and to figure out her preferred activities (like the balance beam!) and build on those. I think both the staff and the other parents realized that any other questions they might have were merely to satisfy their own curiosity, which isn’t necessary for acceptance.

Each week, every activity was not focused on what Brenna can or can’t do, but “how can we help her achieve this to the best of her ability?” I’ll never forget the day that Brenna’s dance teacher celebrated when I told her about Brenna’s 4-year check-up and how she was able to complete many of the physical activities that were tested, such as walking on the balls of her feet and balancing on one leg, largely because of the dance activities we had been doing week after week in class.

Ichthyosis (Brenna’s skin condition) can be, shall we say, a little messy. Because of the way her skin sheds and the thick lotion she wears, it is very obvious where Brenna has been in a room, and we are all so endeared to that as we smile at each other and we say “Brenna was here!” As much as we love everything about that, there is no denying that it means more cleaning up.

While in dance class, as we would move from each new section of the gym, or new activity, I was fully aware of the greasy stains that would be left on the hardwood floors of the dance studio or the skin flakes that would cover the blow-up bouncer or floor mats. But the staff would happily wipe everything down and vacuum everything up without a word. It was never made to me that it ever felt like an inconvenience, but instead that they were pleased to do whatever it took to have Brenna be part of their class.

People like this, businesses like this, are doing it right – looking past any differences in appearance or abilities to recognize each individual child and then doing whatever they can to help that child succeed, enjoy their experience, and belong as part of the group.

I’m beyond grateful for such an encouraging, positive, inclusive experience – and Brenna can’t stop talking about starting a new gymnastics class in the fall!

This post was originally posted at blessedbybrenna.com on 5/31/16.

Courtney WestlakeAbout Courtney Westlake

Courtney Westlake is wife to Evan and mother to Connor (6) and Brenna (4). She is a writer, author and photographer, and chronicles family life after Brenna was born with a severe skin disorder on her blog Blessed by Brenna. Courtney is also the author of the upcoming book A Different Beautiful, released August 2016. You can also find Courtney on Instagram and Facebook.

View all posts by Courtney Westlake here.


0 Comments on “What True Acceptance Looks Like—My Daughter’s Dance Class”

  1. This is how the world should be, accepting of everyone’s uniqueness. I love how dance is a way to bring everyone together. Dance your heart out , Brenna!

    1. Exactly, Eliana! “Accepting of everyone’s uniqueness”…that’s beautiful and right on!

  2. What an awesome story. With the way the world is today, it’s hard to find people that don’t treat others as more of a burden. That the entire staff and other parents were so kind and welcoming is absolutely amazing. #blessedbybrenna <3

  3. This is so sweet. My grand daughter has autism so I know what it is like to have your child stared at and talked about. It breaks my heart how some people can be so mean.

    1. It’s very sad to witness people being mean in situations like that, Beverly. The world could certainly do with more empathy.

  4. I love that you allowed your sweet girl to join a dance class. She looks like she has fun. And it sounds like everyone there is amazing.

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