Monday, 31 October 2011

Halloween Dance: Musings About Segregated Events

On Thursday I volunteered to accompany a group of people with intellectual disabilities to a Halloween dance in another town.

Segregated Events...*sigh

I’m not 100% sure whether this dance was marketed only to people with intellectual and/or physical disabilities and their support workers or whether the dance was open to the community at large.  There didn't appear to be any people from the community at large at this dance, and I know from volunteering at  these sorts of dances in the past that the people who come do tend to be almost exclusively people with disabilities that are supported by agencies, and volunteers and/or staff who agree to attend as support. In other words, they're segregated dances, and it's left me with a somewhat bad taste in my mouth for quite some time  (much in the same way that the Special Olympics does).

Some of the people that attend these dances are terrific dancers. More importantly, a lot of them simply love to dance. Why aren’t we encouraging people with disabilities to attend community dances, and providing needed support for that to happen if necessary?

On the Other Hand...

I have an idea of the “whys” and “wherefores” for these questions. Sometimes staffing pressures don’t allow that kind of support, and it’s not always easy to get volunteers. And I know that for some of the people I’ve supported, I’d have concerns about them going unsupported to a community dance where alcohol was being served (although it’s certainly their option to do so). I worry enough about their safety as it is, given the research I’ve done into the higher rates of assault for people with disabilities – less than I would than if we were living in a big city, but I think it’s na├»ve for anyone to assume that violence can’t find them in a small town. Even with my cane, a loud voice, and a more than reasonable amount of force behind me (and no compunction about using all three to defend myself if I had to), I won’t go walking in my town past a certain point at night alone, and definitely not in certain areas.

I see why people like the segregated dances. They’re inter-community social events. They’re a chance for people to meet up with friends supported by other agencies. Sometimes, people from my community have found people that they knew from when they were institutionalized as children, teens, or young adults. It’s interesting to see people form new friendships and rekindle old ones.

Why Not Just Dance Together?

I think that the way I’d ideally de-segregate these dances is that I’d try to bring more of the community into the dances as they’re currently conducted. Because, seriously, I had a blast on Thursday night, and I think it was because it was the least judgemental place to dance that I’d ever been.  I wasn’t a very good dancer before my stroke, and I pretty much just flail now – but nobody cared. The woman with Down’s Syndrome who grabbed me for I-can’t-even-remember-what-song and tried to teach me to ballroom dance didn’t appear to care that the stubborn fingers on my left hand wouldn’t interlace with hers – she just grabbed my wrist, showed me where to put my other hand, and we laughed and laughed as she tried to get me to spin around the floor. No one cared if you liked to dance in a large group, a small group, or by yourself, or if you wanted to dance a slow dance with your opposite-sex partner or your best same-sex friend or just twirling on the floor by yourself. People danced in their wheelchairs, people sang loudly without letting a little thing like not knowing the words get in the way, and no one seemed to think a thing of it.

It was inspiring. There was a place for everybody.

It was humbling. I thought, “This is the way it’s supposed to be – and we ‘smart’ people are supposed to get it, but we don’t. It’s the people that we look down on that truly get it.”

Sometimes…I wonder how “smart” all of us “normal” people really are.

Happy Halloween!


  1. What a terrific post!

    Wouldn't it be wonderful if the whole world was more accepting like that?

    What is that thing that makes everyone feel anxious and concerned about the opinions of others... oh yeah it is Judgment... oh and hang on discrimination too...

    It sounds like you had a great time and you made me smile in the retelling.


  2. I am really against segregated events, simply because they are usually because the only people who are not disabled are the ones who organize and run the event (if the reverse were true and those with intellectual or physical disabilities were to police what was acceptable behavoir at a club full of AB people, I think most AB people would find that highly offensive, but not the reverse).

    Sakura-con has an integrated dance, from intellectual disabilities/physical disabilities, high neurological divergence and lots of same sex couples as well. It seems to work out fine, plus the families with kids too. There isn't alcohol served, but the dancing is fun and people are there to have fun and dress up and if you are 'in character' or you are Mila from Resident Evil dancing with Sailor moon, no one cares. Why would they? However, it feels more like a community, a representation of everyone from families, young adults, couples, and the diversity of an human community.

    I've been to women only dances, when security (like being attacked, or having a guy who just won't take no for an answer) is a problem, and I understand the need for those and that was fun. But in a place where that isn't a problem, I don't go to them. For me, I don't see how the population is going to learn how to dance with wheelchairs, people with canes, and watch out both physically and in caring for those with different disabilities unless they are exposed to them in all the events of their lives, which means dances too.

    But I'm glad you had a good time and got on the dance floor.

  3. It *was* fun. And I do agree with you, Beth - it's why I've made a point of speaking up when appropriate about how I wish that going to community dances was encouraged as well as the segregated dances...that people were more aware that the *option* is there, should they choose to take it. It's unfortunate that, at least in my small community, anyone with a disability who went to community dances would at first be regarded, at least at first, as that "ground-breaker" person with a disability (especially in the case of intellectual disability) who goes to community dances. That doesn't bother me, but not everyone wants to be in that role, you know?

    But this segregation issue does need to be addressed, if we're going to create truly inclusive communities. I just find it amusing that the people we're trying so hard to include seem to have the most to teach us about it, if we'd just open our minds a bit...

    Thank you both for commenting. The two of you always make me think.

  4. I find segregation abhorrent and untenable in every way. That said is there really segregation in this case? Clearly Sarah, whose brain may have had a conniption at one point but whose intelligence and cognitive ability is obviously uncompromised, was not excluded... would a person with no disability have been welcome there?

    I've never been to a function where any word or sign indicated that persons of different intellectual abilities were unwelcome (they might have to exclude 90% of the young men if they did seeing as they all suffer from testosterone poisoning!) So is there segregation in the general run of the mill functions in the community?

    I am NOT here talking about discrimination which occurs in too many places and in too many forms, but specifically about segregation.

    Back in the day I used to go to gay or lesbian dances and there were straight people there and blokes at the dyke functions... ergo no segregation just an attempt to create a product/event that was tailored to the needs and desires of a particular group... If straight people want to slow dance into the wee small hours to k.d.lang - have at it!

    I think that different groups of people do have different taste and different wants and I don't think there is anything wrong with creating an event that suits those people.

    To Elizabeth's point about who is organizing and policing a function - yes it does leave a bad taste in the mouth that something is created and administered by the "ruling class" so to speak, organizational inclusion definitely needs to be part of any inclusive goal.

    I don't go to dances any more (too loud/ overwhelming/ exhausting/ populated/stressful/ etc) but if I did I would MUCH rather be at the kind of function Sarah so beautifully described than at some lesbian dance run by the super-fit, beautiful, young DJ type, trendy, women who scare the shit out of me!