A Sign of Change

Winter Greetings, Friends!

Hard to believe this is the last weekend of the year 2019, and the 2010 decade. I saw something this week that I could not resist sharing with you. It reminds me of the first time I thought about disability inclusion, and it would be another ten years before I learned about KIT.

Throughout college, I worked as a choreographer all around San Diego County. One of my earliest positions was for an award-winning junior high school show choir called Showstoppers. I was about twenty years old, and the director was a very formidable woman who sparked fear and admiration in equal parts. Whenever I come across the Shakespeare quote, “Though she be but little, she is fierce!” I think of Mrs. Potter.

My first official day of work was spent with Mrs. Potter auditioning rising 7th graders for the next year’s choir. The students would have to sing, dance, smile, and be good representatives in the community. Show choir was one of the most popular activities at the school, so we were long on talent and short on spots. About mid-way through the long day, a bright and bubbly girl named Lucy, with a broad smile and a bouncy blond ponytail, entered the room. I remember her to this day because she was one of the few students who understood that her audition began the second she stepped through the door. I remember thinking to myself, “I hope she can sing and dance.” Yep. As it turned out she had been taking dance at the local studio since she was three years old and had performed in her church’s choir for years. I thought she was perfect. Going into the deliberations with Mrs. Potter, she was my top candidate.

When we began to confer about which students would be called back for the final round of auditions, I found that Mrs. Potter didn’t even have Lucy on her list. When I asked her why she wouldn’t see Lucy again, she said, “Didn’t you notice? Lucy doesn’t have an arm.” I had noticed. Lucy was wearing a prosthetic on her left arm, from her elbow to fingertips. Mrs. Potter told me that she had seen her around campus frequently, not wearing the prosthetic at all. “What does that matter?” I asked. “She won’t be able to do the moves,” Mrs. Potter replied, “She won’t look like the other girls. She can’t do jazz hands, and what if she needed to do a lift with one of the boys?” I told Mrs. Potter that as the choreographer, I was sure I could figure this out. Back then, I didn’t have all the words to advocate for Lucy’s inclusion, this was before the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, but I knew that it was right for her to be included. I knew the team would be better with Lucy on it. Mrs. Potter said, “I think show choir is just something you need two arms for.” I was crushed at the injustice.

I did not know at the time that fighting for kids like Lucy, and frankly, all the other kids who didn’t get the benefit of her contribution, would become my life’s work. But, the need for KIT was clear to me then. That’s why this week I was delighted to see this story in the news, and I could not wait to share it with you.

For the first time in the 94-year history of the Radio City Rockettes, a visibly disabled dancer takes the stage in the famous kickline. Sydney Mesher was born without a left hand. In interviews, Sydney says that she doesn’t consider her disability to be that challenging. She can do everything required of a Rockette, just as Lucy could have in the Showstoppers. This story shows how societal attitudes are changing, and I am here for it. As the Rockettes go, so goes the world? I hope so, and I think that this is a step pointed-toe, eye-high kick in the right direction.

Thanks for indulging me today. You may now return to your holiday festivities.