How I have missed you! I have been meaning to write a note of thank you to everyone- Wendy, the cast, the crew, and the parents.
I cannot tell you how special the experience was for me on so many different levels. Because of my deafness, I always had to fight through life for everything- to get an education, to get a job, to get resources. Even the simple things I had to fight for- to go to the movies with subtitles, to be allowed in a dance class, and so on. Because I had to fight so much as just a deaf person, I went through most of my life keeping the part about my being blind a secret. People were struggling enough to comprehend how to include a deaf person, never mind a blind person. Yes, being blind was a secret I kept from friends, teachers, coworkers. I did not admit it until I was 25.
Despite all the pushing for inclusion, I truly loved dancing. It brought me joy and an escape from my disabilities. Though there were times my partners tried to talk to me and did not understand why I could not understand them. There were times teachers stomped away in frustration when I could not lipread everything they were saying. There were times I misinterpreted the music; a slow cha-cha can feel like a salsa. But I persisted with dancing not from stubbornness (although that may be a part of it) but when you have a dancer’s heart, it is hard to ignore the siren’s call.
Imagine my surprise when someone approached me about a role for a deaf dancer in the part of Pippi’s Angel Mama. A million thoughts and doubts raced through my mind. But I am not deaf, I am deaf/blind. Will they still want me if they know I cannot see well? Should I hide my visual limits like I always have? I am not an actress, I have never been trained on how to do a monologue or audition. Then logistical issues ran through my head- how would I get from point A to point B? Would people sigh in exasperation every time I “needed” something?
The moment I stood on the stage with Wendy to demonstrate some of the dance styles, something clicked that told me I was in the right place. I imagined all the seats full and how the audience would (likely for the first time) see a deaf/blind individual. And not only a deaf/blind individual dancing but also being part of a cast. I was nervous but thought, “ I bet I could make a difference here”.
Once I became part of the cast, I was nervous about meeting the rest of the performers. Would I be the person relegated to the corner? Would people talk over me and ignore me? With each rehearsal, I met someone new. Some of the kids ran up to me to show me how to spell their names, the other kids thought that was so cool so before the show’s run- every kid had come up to me to learn how to spell their names and asked me often how do you sign (insert a word)? While I waited backstage for my cue, and the townkids ran off stage after the Pippi dance, they all ran by me to say hello (in sign!). My past experience with children usually had them asking their parents what was wrong with me? I marveled at how the kids did not let my disabilities intimidate them but thought it was “pretty cool”.
Aside from the children, I loved working with the adults and the crew too. In the beginning, there were not many in the crew who knew sign language but by the end of the run, at least everyone had signed something to me. Many of the adults have asked where they could go learn sign language and had committed to taking a class.
I also loved my “family,” Pippi and Papa Longstocking. Families have each other’s back and Pippi and Papa sure had mine! Both were protective and supportive of me. I cannot say how many times I had the giggles with Sirena while we rehearsed. Cliff not only helped me on the stage but continued to protect me off the stage.
I never once had to worry about how would I get around, would I have an interpreter, or would I be accepted?
For one of the first times in my life, I was able to simply be who I am and not worry about my challenges. I was accepted, I was included.
For that, I am grateful to you all and wanted to extend a heartfelt thank you to everyone. (deaf hands waving).
With all my heart,