“Oh! My! Heavens!” Zintle screeches, as she peeks through the curtains. “The place is packed.”
My heart thuds so hard in my chest I fear it will run away. Will people laugh at us? I will die if they laugh at us.
“Ladies,” Ms Jaiyana says, “don’t worry about the crowd. Just do what you know best.”
I slowly count down in my head, and try to steady my breathing. When I hit ‘one’ the curtain begins sliding back and the music blasts on.
I, and two other wheelchair users, start to rotate, like a break-dancer spinning on their back, but we’re doing it on wheels. It is the hardest move for me in the entire show, which is why we’re opening with it, when I still have energy. But as I push it, making my chair go in circles, and Zintle jumps between Karleen’s legs, which are doing complicated patterns, the crowd starts cheering. Relief runs through me, and morphs into something else.
What. A. Rush!
Their excitement pushes me even more than just the loud music. It’s like their voices are lifting me, giving me power, as I spin my chair. When we stop, Geina, Ms Jaiyana, and another dancer grip the back of the three chairs, and leap over us, legs split, landing on the other side, and the crowd goes wild.
Thump! Thump! Thump! Goes the music. Pa’s absolutely right: the music is hard and banging, but he doesn’t get it, how it makes me feel strong, powerful, fierce. As I sway back and forth, Zintle the tick to my tock, I feel … mighty.
Too often people see me and feel sorry for me. Too often people cheer me on, like at school sports day, for doing something they could probably do when they were three. It feels like people are just humouring me – “Ah, bless her” – and not truly admiring me.
But as we pound our way through the routines tonight, with Ms Jaiyana’s choreography, and our kick-butt outfits and wicked KT tape, I realise nobody is cheering tonight because we are ‘just so sweet’. And nobody, nobody, is thinking, ‘Ah, bless’.
As we conclude our final number, I know we have put on a brilliant show, dancing in ways other people may not, but after tonight, they might just wish they were.
Because Ms Jaiyana hasn’t made us try to dance like poor copies of able-bodied people. She made us dance using our strengths and our unique abilities, with combinations and patterns that are bold and elegant at the same time.
Tonight, as I finish my first stage performance, I know we, the New Skool Academy, are awesome.
I’m sorry you couldn’t see it. But maybe you’ll catch us next time.
Tell us: What do you think of this story? Had you thought about the disability issues it brought up before?