It’s difficult to put into words what went on last night at Macy’s dress rehearsal. A slice of heaven on earth is really the best way to stamp my experience. But for you to totally understand what I’m talking about I’ll have to go back. Way back to the beginning of our hip hop days, which began about a year ago…
When I finally landed on a dance studio to sign Macyn up for a hip hop class I sent the owner and director of the studio a quick email. I explained to her my child has Down syndrome and I wondered if she wanted to talk at any time about any concerns or questions this might raise. She humbly let me know she has very little experience with people who have Down syndrome. Years ago, there was a student in one of the classes who had Down syndrome but that was her only exposure. She quickly let me know my child would be welcome in any of the classes and we’d work together to make it work.
So we showed up. And Macyn LOVED it. And we kept coming back week after week. Month after month.
And every time we showed up it was glaringly obvious Macyn was the only different person in the room. Macyn was a different kind of dancer. She was not going to catch on as quickly nor be able to remember more than one eight count at a time. She was not going to have the sharpest moves or stay in formation.
And she knew it. And it was hard. And at times she felt extremely discouraged. At times, she wanted to give up. But she never did, because she’s brave like that. And she’s used to living in a world in which there is little room or bend or flex for her.
It’s a shame, but she’s used to it…we all are.
So we go to hip hop every Tuesday night, and she wakes up every Tuesday morning excited out of her mind that it’s Tuesday. And she steps into that hard place and dances her heart out.
Then the recital draws near. And things get real.
The routine she needs to learn for the recital is extremely difficult. It’s way, way, way too hard for her. And one night, about four weeks before the recital is supposed to happen, I sit in the whole class and observed the girls practicing their routine and it’s obvious Macyn does not have it. Not even close. We’ve been practicing at home but a routine like this could take our Macyn a year or more to get, and we only had a little over a month.
And it’s obvious this was another situation in which there was little, if any thought about her and how to make her successful in this routine. This is not a reflection of the teacher or head of the studio. This dance studio exists in this world which still has not figured out how to create spaces for people with different abilities. Our initial experience in hip hop is a reflection of a world which continues to be blinded to the fact we are all better off when we fully include and do life with people who have different ability.
After that practice I met my family and my folks for tacos, and over carne asada I told my mom and dad how I was feeling. And I cried, because it’s all too much. And my dad gave me a big squeeze and said,
“Heather, don’t grow weary in doing the right thing.” And we hugged and we cried.
And then I got on the phone to a warrior in this whole Down syndrome world who is 10 years ahead of me with a heck of a lot more brains and I said, “Nancy, what would you do?”
And we both agreed Macyn deserves to be in this recital no matter how many moves she misses. She’s been working as hard as all the other dancers and she should proudly show off all her hard work on a big stage. And then Nancy said,
“Heather, you need to talk with the head of the dance studio. Let her know how you are feeling and ask if you can come up with a plan.”
So that night, my weary soul wrote an uncomfortable email to the head of the dance studio and I lovingly shared my heart and experience. She quickly replied and invited me to meet with her and make a plan and she said,
“I don’t care about raising up good dancers, I want to raise up good humans!”
And I knew she was my people. And I went into the meeting the next day feeling all kinds of nerves, because confrontation is never something I’m excited about, but all kinds of peace because based on that one line, I knew we had the same end goal.
So we met. We created a plan and we both apologized for making assumption and for not talking sooner and creating a plan for Macyn’s success on day one. We both recognized it was both of our responsibility and if we were going to make this world go round in a way in which we want our kids to experience it, then the only way to do that is together.
Fast-forward a few weeks. It’s Wednesday before the recital; the official dress rehearsal.
Two days prior Macyn had a chance to practice on stage during the tech rehearsal. It was imperative we set her up well as she’s the kind of kid who will be far more successful if she knows exactly what to expect. As I expected, she was hesitant at first then once she understood what was going on and her role in it, she joined in and did her dance routine like a champ.
I was beyond proud!
So last night I really did think she had it. I was sure the practice two days prior had prepared her for the recital ahead. But things were slightly different this time around. Different enough for Macyn to feel the need to put on the breaks.
She stood in the “on-deck” hallway with all her hip hop friends. She was excited and smiley and seemed ready. Then, it was time to get backstage and line up. Things were a bit confusing and different than two nights prior. There was an urgency and some pulling and pushing to get Macyn in her spot on the side of the stage to walk out, and it caught her off guard.
And she refused to go out on the stage.
And I thought, “oh shoot!”
You see, we have twenty people paying $20 each to watch Macyn dance for less than three minutes. Twenty people who have been on this hip hop journey for the past year with us. Twenty people who have cheered us on, held us up, and who are going hoarse shouting the worth of our girl.
When you raise a child, who does not fit in the majority of spaces in life, you are not just showing up for things like hip hop, or gymnastics or church or school. You are stepping out your front door, and into these spaces time after time, armored with bravery, grace and grit, showing up to say “dear world, this person is worthy.” And this message, though simple in concept, requires a lifetime of energy and heart. Eight years in we know this journey is only possible because of our good, good God, and the people who are on it with us.
So there we were. The last eight counts of the song played the dancers took their final pose and Macyn, who so successfully danced two days prior, was sitting on the side of the stage, refusing to dance. When the song came to an end, the owner of the studio, who by now has fully joined us in shouting the worth of Macyn and others like her, gracefully said to the parents who were watching and the dancers on-deck,
“We are going to run that routine again and fix some formations.” She said this for Macyn. She stopped the show and re-ran a routine for Macyn.
Still, Macyn refused to dance.
She looked to me as for what to do next and I was at a total loss. I thanked her and told her it was fine. The show moved forward and Macyn and I went outside. I didn’t know what to do. I tried all the usual tricks but nothing was working.
Two things I knew for sure:
1. If Macyn decided not to preform in the recital. It did not matter to me the $400 spent on tickets and $75 on costumes. She would know her value and our love for her would not change a bit if she decided not to dance.
2. Macyn needed to dance in this recital. I could see in her eyes and her heart the disappointment and confusion she was feeling. She wanted this so bad but it was all so dang hard. Macyn needed to dance for Macyn.
So, we walked around for about twenty minutes. She didn’t want to leave, but she didn’t want to dance.
I had no idea what to do.
Finally I took her into the room and we sat in the audience and watched a few of the other dancers. After about two routines Macyn said to me, “Mama, I wanna dance.”
“Okay, baby, let’s go tell Miss Alison."Then I got down on my knees and looked her in eyes, "And Macyn you’ve got this.”
I grabbed my baby girl’s hand and we made our way back stage. When we got back there the majority of the girls in her hip hop class were on-deck for one of the ballet routines they were in. Their costumes consisted of black velvet tops long cream-colored tutus and full-length gloves.
Macyn told Miss Alison she was ready, and this morning I am still weepy over what happened next.
Miss. Alison looked at Macyn and matter of fact said, "Okay!" and started giving out orders,
“Go find as many of the girls in ‘Up Town Funk’ as you can.”
“Pull up the music and lighting for ‘Up Town Funk’.”
The girls in their black velvet tops, cream-colored tutus and full-length gloves began to mummer, “What? We're doing 'Up Town Funk' again? We don’t have our right costume on.”
One little girl looked at me and said, “I’m going to go out on the stage and do the dance again with Macyn.” Then the rest of the girls chimed in “Me too!”
Then it happened. Miss Alison got on the mic and told the audience they were going to run “Up Town Funk” again. She didn’t make a big deal out of it, just made it happen.
And Macyn walked out onto the stage and got in her spot...
The music started...
And she danced!
I ran into the audience so I could watch from there and I wept.
There it was, a glimpse of heaven on earth. A dozen little girls in cream tutus and my Macyn in her harem pants and red crop top, dancing to “Up Town Funk”, for the third time that night, six or seven routines too late. The hundreds of people involved in this recital bending and flexing to make space for my Macyn.
When the routine was over Macyn ran back stage and with pride and utter joy she said, “mommy, I did it!” And I held her and cried. And I hugged Alison and we cried. And then the show went on.
This journey is about so much more than hip hop and dance recitals. It’s about a moment in time when all the hours and hours of hard work and shouting of worth and hundreds of tears shed as we fight for a world in which Macyn can fit, came to fruition. Last night at that dress rehearsal she fit. And it took all of us, bending and flexing. And it was magic and holy, and I am beyond honored to get to be a part of it all.
So tomorrow is the real the deal.
Inevitably things will be different tomorrow night and it’ll throw Macyn off. There is a good chance she will get nervous again and think she can’t do it. There is a good chance she won’t dance. But because of what happened last night I can remind her that in fact she can, because she already did.
And if that doesn’t work, and she never does make it onto the stage, it doesn’t even matter. We will take the events of last night and keep them tucked into the corners of our hearts. And Macyn will wake up every day for the rest of her life and bravely dance her way through.
For this world is her stage and she is the star.