I am not a good dancer, I would love to be able to move my body gracefully and in time to music, but it is a skill that consistently eludes me. As a child I was told by my ballet teacher that I would “only ever dance elephant lake” and it was suggested I stop attending ballet class. This devastated me and even though I have tried to learn to line dance (even after a year I can only do this by copying the person in front of me and so am behind everyone else with every step!) and hip-hop (where it was suggested that I need a special beginners class as this beginners class was too advanced…).
As a result of these experiences, I understandably have a comfort zone that does not include waltzing across a stage every night as part of a play. However, I was invited to audition for the only autistic theatre company in Australia early this year and was thrilled to be accepted into the company ensemble. And then…… then I was told I needed to WALTZ across the stage, IN TIME to music….
Now there is an interesting dichotomy inherent in having Aspergers whereby I didn’t want to offend or be rude, so I was unable to say what I felt (which was an impolite version of no way, get lost) and at the same time I was hugely anxious about this as I find it almost impossible to walk in time to music let alone dance. The director (and everyone in the company) is on the spectrum and his ability to move each of us beyond our comfort zones was seriously impressive. I actually managed to dance (led skilfully by ‘Dr Leo Kanner’) with more and more skill and less faltering each practice, until finally I could just be led and move across the stage. Now I am not saying I can dance now…. but I certainly achieved the director’s vision (I presume as he did not say otherwise) and I have taken his words to heart: “You can do it, just keep on trying”. Certainly there were other directions, not all so polite, but I was amazed that it was that simple to be able to move through my comfort zone. Interestingly he did all the things I ask teachers to do; have a belief in the ability of the student/person to do what you are asking them to do, set them up for success with clear instructions and celebrate the small steps on the way to success.
It is a long time since I have been in a situation where someone else was asking me to go beyond my comfort zone, and it was good to be in this position with someone that has a belief that I could not only manage to do that but do it well. It reinforces the things I have been saying and writing about helping kids achieve their potential.
Some of the performances were followed by Q&A’s and it has been interesting to see the mix of people’s views and how the play shifted some seriously negative perceptions of autism and the autism spectrum. Audience members were shown how capable a range of adults on the spectrum can be, through the story and the acting (and dancing 🙂 )! I do hope that this message of the potential within spreads further and faster and those children being diagnosed are supported to achieve and not disabled through either being over protected and not given opportunities to go beyond their comfort zone or by being presumed incapable.