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What I've Learned From Being a Performer With Cerebral Palsy

I started dancing at age 6, mostly because my mom saw I loved to sing and jump around along with my “Annie” and various Disney VHS tapes in our family room. If only we knew at the time how many lessons would come my way in the years to follow. I wish I could say every person I’ve ever encountered was fully supportive of the fact that I danced as a person with cerebral palsy, but that wasn’t always the case.

I also wish I didn’t feel different sometimes. It’s hard to think back to myself at 8 years old and remember how I felt watching myself in the mirror. When all the girls around you can leap gracefully across the room or tap their feet faster, it’s a tough pill to swallow at first. I also had to accept that there were some things my body would physically not be able to accomplish. Despite all this, I was determined. Quitting dance wasn’t something I could bring myself to do. Most importantly, come recital time, I’ll never forget how happy I was when I got up on the stage.

I came to realize ballet wasn’t the best fit for me, but tap was something I began to have fun with. When the moments of doubt watching myself in the mirror were replaced with moments of accomplishment, I knew in my heart that I still loved to dance, despite my left leg. It was also a huge blessing to have a supportive choreographer. It made all the difference in the world when I knew someone cared about me regardless of how fast I could tap my feet. Shout out to “Miss Donna” for encouraging me every step of the way (no pun intended!)

I didn’t have many doubts about transitioning into high school theater — I still wanted to perform. I was lucky I had a positive support system to help me along the way. But those years gave me some heavy doses of perspective. Those who know me well know that my cerebral palsy is something I like to have complete control over (after all, no one knows my body better than me!) I went through a time of intense self-criticism, afraid someone would notice how my leg was “different” on stage, and somehow justify that this made me less of a performer. Between those moments of feeling weak in ballet as a little girl, and unkind comments from people over the years, I carried a lot of self-doubt with me. I strived to be as perfect as possible and became very hard on myself. But as time went on, I realized that every moment I wasted worrying about my CP was a moment I could’ve been spending fully invested in the happiness of stepping on the stage.

As I went into my senior year of high school, embracing my CP and finding my confidence was nothing short of exhausting. I made a promise to myself that I would stay positive — my script was even covered with motivational quotes! Not every day was easy, and I spent a lot of rehearsal time with ice packs. But looking back on it, those days taught me how to accept my tight, sore, tired muscles in their entirety. Having the ability to perform with cerebral palsy taught me so many lessons about myself and what’s truly important in life. Without them, I would never have had the chance to grow and change my outlook. To quote one of my favorite lines from Miss Donna, “It’s not about your physical body… it’s about the heart and soul you put into what you do!”

I would be lying if I said I still didn’t look longingly at the Rockettes and their beautiful high kicks. And if the opportunity ever arises, I’ve always dreamed of knowing what it felt like to leap and twirl across a big stage. But for now, I have my left leg as a reminder of how much I’ve grown — because cerebral palsy has forever shared the stage with me.

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