No participation Trophies, No Special Mentions from the Podium, No DS Awareness T-shirts…


So, the first time I took Troy to a disabled only event, it was an amazing relief. I didn’t have to worry about him puking at the table, throwing a fit, choking on solid food, etc. It was a lovely event, filled with people with special needs and it felt so relaxing. But this is not about that.

This is about Troy’s first BIG inclusive event. It’s about his first dance Showcase and as we prepare for this year’s showcase, the memories flood back in.

OK, so Troy was 20 years old. He had been taking ballroom lessons for about a year, and we were talked into allowing Troy to participate in this big deal event. And pay. It was very expensive. But he so wanted to compete, and he adored the local Medal Balls so much so….


The days were full of planning, preparing, getting the costumes set, etc. We arrived at the hotel in the limo, entered and saw literally hundreds of dancers pushing carts full of costumes. At the time, it was the largest multi-studio showcase in the nation. As we got to the lobby of the ballroom, we saw all the feathers, sequins and the hustle and bustle. We got Troy in his Western wear (Western comes first in most competitions), and pinned his competition number on his back and suddenly realize…. folks are staring. Not as in uneducated areas where insensitive folks just stare at our kids, but as in the cool way that educated folks do in a classy way… the quick looks, the whispers, the walking by our table for no reason kind of looks. Apparently, Troy was the first disabled person to compete at one of these things and folks noticed.

Does that guy have??? Is he??? Is this for real??? Is this a special deal where he comes, does a little spin and we all clap and he gets a trophy? He couldn’t possibly be just one of us, could he?

Well, actually yeah. He is just like one of you. And suddenly I got pretty worried. All my usual worries – he’ll freeze out of fear, he’ll run into someone, he’ll puke in front of everyone…. Were put aside and I worried about him making a fool of himself in front of hundreds of people who really do know how to dance. I’m ready to puke now, myself.

But its time – the “newcomers” (folks who haven’t yet qualified for medal status) go first and Troy is in the very first heat. His partner, his first instructor married and moved right before this showcase, so he is dancing with a new pro who hasn’t memorized the few combinations Troy has learned. S**t. She hardly knows him. She takes a position with Troy in the corner closest to our table – so I can see where we wasted all our money, I guess. I’m literally in a cold sweat.

What on earth was I thinking putting him through this? There were about 40 people on the floor with him, and 7 or 8 judges on a raised podium.

So the music starts and about 40 people take off with the West Coast swing. And Troy’s smile is so broad that the judges and spectators are all beaming back at him. I mean, he is in his happy place. After a few seconds, I’m no longer at risk of hurling.

Was he the best dancer? Nope. Was he the worst? Nope again.

Troy and his new dance partner.

After his first heat, an instructor from another studio came to our table to chat. He was so impressed with Troy. Then other dancers. Then more instructors. Then, a couple judges and studio owners. Our son was a celebrity. One dancer came up to thank Troy. She said she was having serious second thoughts and planned to dash to the bathroom, puke and go home. Then she saw Troy with his enormous grin having so much fun and so excited to dance. No fear, no worries – he was there to have a good time and stage fright wasn’t going to get in the way. She said my son was the only reason she got through that first dance.

No participation trophies, no special mentions from the podium, no DS awareness t-shirts… just doing what everyone else was doing with ordinary people instead of segregated with other folks with disabilities.

His second showcase resulted in a lot less staring and whispers. And the few newbies who did were told, oh yeah, that’s Santa Rosa studio – wait till you see him smile while he dances.


Written by mum, Jo Cunningham.


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