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PO Box #604285, Bayside, NY 11360
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The Ungraceful Dancers

When people think of dance, the first thing that comes to mind is a beautiful form of expression. In order to attain the status of being beautiful. It requires an intense amount of athleticism, precision. For many, a perfectly toned perfectly muscular body that is completely thin and perfectly curvy at the same time.  This is what most people expect when they hear the word graceful.

            My name is Veronica Siaba and I have Cerebral Palsy (CP). CP is a physical disability that affects muscle tone and coordination. For me it means I have super tight muscles and have to use a wheelchair for my mobility, and I was a dancer. I know that must be hard to believe so let me explain. I’ve had CP my whole life so I’ve needed a wheelchair my whole life for me this is normal for the rest of the world it isn’t. That constant culture shock is something I’m always confronted with but it hits especially hard when you’re a child.

            When you’re a child you get to play make believe and you can be anything you want, a superhero, a doctor, a wizard etc. This is usually encouraged by the people around you, not so much when you’re a disabled child though. I liked to dress up and be a dancer so I would wear a tiara and a tutu. Sometimes kids would come up and ask why? Kids are honest so I said I wanted to be a dancer. If the other kids didn’t say anything alluding to the fact that there was no way I could possibly be a dancer they would give me a look and walk away. Adults wouldn’t say anything but their silence was more than enough to understand that they didn’t think I could, or should be a dancer either.

            When I wasn’t dressing up or playing pretend I would still get weird looks and unnecessary comments. When I wasn’t getting them directly I was overhearing them which makes it so much worse. I would hear things like “that just breaks my heart.” “that poor family” and probably the worst thing I have ever heard was “I could never be her mother” at five years old I began to understand that outside of my family I am not only unworthy of being a dancer but that seeing my wheelchair, seeing me makes people sad and I am difficult to love. That my body and life were things that nobody else wanted or could even tolerate.  I was an example of what to be afraid of. This was only reinforced by being turned away from every single dance class my mom tried to sign me up for.

            That changed when I became a patient of Joann Ferrara, a pediatric physical therapist. Most of her young patients affectionately call her Miss Joann. For a lot of children, me included physical therapy or PT is not something enjoyable, like eating vegetables it was something grown-ups made us do. Miss Joann had a different approach she let us have a say in our exercises our routines and our goals, she made it fun. She let me wear my tiara and my tutu the entire session. Then she told me words that I had been wanting to hear for so long “you look like a dancer”. I told Joann how badly I wish to be one but how it was impossible for me because nobody wanted me in their class. To my surprise she walked out of the room and told my mom she was starting a dance program. Not long after we had our first dance class. There were five of us little girls and leotards and tutus, all of us had something else in common we each had a physical disability. In this class perfect was just a seven-letter word. What others would find imprecise and awkward we found expressive and beautiful. In other places the sound of a wheelchair clicking, a walker rushing by or a crutch thumping would be disruptive, here those sounds enhanced the sound of the music and made it more beautiful. Our devices are shown with pride. There was no need to worry about being “graceful” because we didn’t need to be. We could just be dancers.  That feeling only increased when we had our first spring recital and we got to show our dance on stage. The class continued to grow and became what is now known as Dancing Dreams.

            I was a dancer at Dancing Dreams until my senior year of high school when I was 17 years old, in 2016. I was starting my first semester of college that fall. Now in 2022 at 23 years old I have graduated with my bachelor of science degree. Dancing Dreams is more than just a dance class, it’s a community, a place to feel safe and accepted. It is a place where you are loved exactly as you are, where your body is not a source of shame. Dancing Dreams showed me that there are people in the world that understand that happiness and perfection are not synonymous.  It is because of Dancing Dreams that I know my worth. It is because of Dancing Dreams that I can appreciate my body and do not apologize for it.  I’ve learned to create my own grace. It is because of Dancing Dreams that I am who I am today. Thank you Dancing Dreams from all the ungraceful dancer’s past, present, and future.