When I was away on a Xmas break recently I was reminded of just how hard it must be for people with disabilities to feel included in a lot of things. I was part of a festive house-party at a castle in England with around 40 other people, one of whom was severely disabled and in a wheelchair. I have also been in a wheelchair myself for a few months following an accident, and I vividly remember the problems with being incapacitated in that way.
I was working in the kitchen and I didn't see much of this elderly disabled lady until one evening when I had finished work, and decided to go to one of the activities which were provided for the guests (which the staff could also join in, when we were free). It was the evening of Christmas Day and a dance was being held in one of the large rooms, a Dance of Universal Peace. (The picture that accompanies this blog seemed appropriate as it looks like a wheel, so it illustrates the title). I had heard of these dances before but never attended one. I would highly recommend them to anyone! They combine quite simple physical dance movements with singing and chanting mantras in different languages from diverse spiritual disciplines. For example, we started with the dance from the Muslim Sufi tradition, which involved forming a circle and moving around and then raising our arms and turning on the spot, whilst singing words in Arabic to invoke the peace of Allah! (I believe this is where the expression “Whirling Dervish” comes from – the dervishes are followers of this mystical tradition who chant and spin around, in their quest to attain spiritual enlightenment). We followed by Jewish and Christian chants, in time to the steps.
As I say we were all in this big circle, moving around the room, on the spot, and frequently changing partners, and the lady in the wheelchair was also at the side of the room, watching. I accidentally backed and bumped into her a couple of times whilst dancing (fortunately I didn't hurt her) and I wondered why she didn't move out of the way. Then, a little later, it dawned on me it was because she really wanted to join in the dance and be included in it all, but obviously couldn't because of her wheelchair. When we re-formed the circle and joined hands she asked the dance leader if she could be part of the circle too. She was able to link hands with someone on one side, but not the other as her arm was paralysed, so instead the leader put her hand on her shoulder, to maintain the physical contact linking the circle. When it came to the point of again changing partners and moving on the spot, the disabled lady went into the centre of the circle, which the leader said was an excellent idea, as all the energy is there in the centre!
So she was able to be there as part of the dance, even thought she was not able to do all the moves. It must have given her a feeling of inclusion and solidarity though, which is the whole point of doing these dances – peace,love, sharing, compassion and including everyone (that is why they take something from several different mystical traditions, to show unity and acceptance of all peoples and cultures). We, all the able-bodied dancers really enjoyed it and, speaking for myself, I ended with a strong feeling of positive energy, warmth, love and connectedness towards all the others, and indeed, towards the whole world! I hope the lady in the wheelchair did too.
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Picture courtesy of www.southerndup.org