Thursday, August 4

risky business

Confession #1: when I use a public toilet, I don’t put any paper down on the seat. I just sit right down on the apropos horse restaurants, gas stations, wherever. I used to put paper down as my mother taught me, but at some point, I just decided life was too short to go around wrangling toilet tissue that wants to go anywhere and everywhere but stay on the seat. So, I stopped. It’s just a risk I’m going to take. Thankfully, my grandmother is no longer on this earth to see what I’ve become.

Confession #2: for the last nine weeks, I’ve been taking a modern dance class at a local studio. I first heard about Keshet from my good friend, Natalie, who also happens to be an exceptional dancer. The company offers integrated dance classes, putting handicapped and able-bodied dancers together on stage. Last year, I went to see their yearly production of Nutcracker on the Rocks, featuring sugar plum fairies gliding across the stage in wheelchairs. Other dancers
sailed on the backs of chairs, legs and arms extended in a graceful lift. 

When I saw this, I got that little thrill I always get just above my belly button when I see something important and good happening in the world. I want to be a part of this, I thought. 

But it wasn’t until I got back from India in the Spring, wanting and needing a change, that I thought of Keshet again. Cassie, the newest resident at the farm, just happened to be taking a class there, so I decided to drop by and check it out. I watched from the sidelines and I saw a number of dancers, like Cassie, using wheelchairs, but no one-armed girls. So, I perused their summer class schedule and settled on beginning modern.

But I was so nervous, I wanted to turn my car around the whole way over to the first class. Not much has changed since I was a little girl going to beginning ballet, just the thought of a leotard loading my stomach with butterflies on steroids. Thankfully, no leotard was required for this class, and walking in the building, my adult self reminded me that I was more self-confident now, and whatever happened, it wasn’t such a big deal.

Then I nearly died of exhaustion in class. I could have had a water bottle strapped to my chin and still suffered dehydration, I got so thirsty. And I had to cancel riding lessons the next day because my body refused to get out of bed.

But each week gets incrementally better, and moving my body reminds me that I have a body again, and that using it just for the sake of enjoying movement is more necessity than luxury.

Though the class is open to people of all abilities, it is not specifically integrated. I’m the only one in the class with an obvious handicap, but the demographic is wide, with some who have never danced before to others, like me, who are easing back in. We come in all shapes and sizes, mostly adults, a few younger dancers, and one guy. Why is there always one guy in dance class?

I’m actually doing pretty well. I have a natural turnout of nearly 180˚...before I fall over. If you don’t know what a turnout is, please just move on. Remember, life is short. Every class starts with core strengthening; apparently my core has been on vacation for some time because it would rather have a Corona under an umbrella than do more than one sit up.

“You can’t stop before you start,” my friend Lori, who also happens to be Natalie’s mom, reminds me on a recent coffee date. This in response to my often disabling fears of new ventures. I realize how many times I talk myself out of trying something new because I might not be able to handle it, I might have to quit.

“If you quit, you quit,” Lori says, “It doesn’t mean you failed; it means you tried something new.” I took the risk, I think.

Cassie's first ride
On Monday evening, without planning or preparation, we decided to put Cassie on the horse for her first ride. I’d been brainstorming the logistics of this for months, and I certainly wasn’t sure it was possible given our limited number of hands and our largish horse. But I looked two support staffers in the eye and said, “This is possible. We will do this.”

And several attempts, lots of pushing and pulling, and at least two strained backs later, we did. Cassie, who spends little time out of her chair, was on the back of a horse. She was riding around the arena. And most importantly, she was smiling.

I don't know what will happen’s just a risk I’m going to take.