By Cyndi Johnson
Last August when I searched the yellow pages for dance classes for my 4-year-old daughter, Rebecca, I had no idea of the surprises that lay ahead. I picked up the phone and called one of the numbers listed. “Do you offer classes for preschoolers?” The answer came, “Oh yes, we have a combo class…” But the tone changed dramatically when I asked if they could accommodate a child with Down syndrome. “No, we can’t…” I dialed a second number and then a third, but the response was the same each time.
Determined, I dialed yet another number. “Do you have any openings for a 4-year-old girl?” When the instructor indicated there were spots available in her preschool class, I simply said, “I’d like to register my daughter…”
I did not mention Down syndrome during the phone conversation but decided to go early to the first class to speak with the instructor directly. When we arrived, you could have toppled the instructor with a feather. There stood Rebecca—tiny for her age due to her medical conditions—in her pink leotard and tutu, clutching her ballet slippers and tap shoes, her eyes sparkling through her glasses. The instructor broke the silence, “She can’t possibly be 3 yet,” to which I replied, “Rebecca actually turned 4 a few weeks ago and had a ballet birthday party! She dances every day. She has some issues like low muscle tone and hearing loss, but I believe she’ll do fine.” The instructor began lecturing me on how Rebecca must listen and behave appropriately if she was to participate, when in walked another mother with her daughter.
What happened next took everyone by surprise. This little girl also wore a pink leotard and tutu, but she shared something else in common with Rebecca. It was obvious that she too had a disability—some physical limitations and eyeglasses with thick lenses. The expression on the instructor’s face turned from surprise to resignation, and she directed the girls to choose a colored square on the studio floor and have a seat.
Other girls arrived, and class began. Rebecca followed directions, waited her turn, and even put on her own tap shoes. She only needed help tying the laces (as did all the girls!). Rebecca’s ability and cooperation clearly came as a surprise to the instructor, and she exclaimed after class almost in disbelief, “Rebecca did a great job!”
Over the next several weeks, Rebecca surprised even me as she learned the entire dance routine and performed in her first recital. Her father and grandparents were in attendance and were astonished. I watched proudly as other onlookers pointed her out and described her performance as “impressive,” “adorable,” and “a show stopper.” Afterward, the instructor gave her a hug and warm words of praise. In the end, I suspect she was the most surprised of all—not only by Rebecca’s capabilities, but also by the transformation that occurred within her own heart and mind.