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Saturday, 6 October 2012

Clara Berg is, Unfortunately for Her, Inspirational

So, this video has been making the rounds on Facebook on Twitter over the last week or so. This is Clara Berg, dancing a variation from Delibe's "Coppelia". She's quite remarkable. Dancing this variation is a lot more difficult, from a technical standpoint, than it looks. It requires an amazing amount of muscle control. And she appears to have memorized the entire thing.

It's an amazing performance, considering that Clara Berg is just ten years old. And, of course, the fact that she has autism and DiGeorge Syndrome makes her even more amazing and inspiring, right?

Clara Berg, Inspiration

According to most of the comments on the Youtube video, it does. It's billed on Youtube as "Autistic Girl with DiGeorge Syndrome Memorizes Coppelia!", and anything I've seen about it usually has "autistic" as the first descriptor of Clara Berg. It's rare that the headlines even mention her name, but they always mention the autism and sometimes both conditions.


Something squicked me about the Clara Berg video the moment I saw it. I was impressed and delighted, yes. But I was vaguely uneasy as well. I thought at first that it was the fact that, as one of the comments on the video pointed out, that the parents put it up, talked about her conditions, and then asked for donations to keep her in the Intensive Multi-Treatment Therapy that's done her so much good. But that sort of thing really doesn't bother me generally. The Bergs live in Ontario, and I've seen firsthand how Ontario's cuts to services and supports have decimated people with disabilities and their families. I can understand trying to keep access to a support that's working well by any means necessary.

When I saw that so many comments on the video read like inspiration porn, I thought, "I think we're getting closer." I started to think about Stella Young's awesome piece on inspiration porn, in which she said:

"When I was 15, a member of my local community approached my parents and told them she wanted to nominate me for some kind of community achievement award. My parents said, "Thanks, but there's one glaring problem with that... she hasn't actually achieved anything out of the ordinary." They were right. I went to school, I got good marks, I had a very low key after-school job, and I spent a lot of time watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson's Creek. I wasn't feeding orphaned Chlamydia-infected baby koalas before school, or setting up a soup kitchen in the main street, or reading newspapers to the elderly at the local hospital. I was doing exactly the same things as my non-disabled friends. When my parents explained all this to the well-meaning nominator, they said "yes, but she's just such an inspiration".

Clara Berg: Celebrate The Right Things

I tried to count how many comments on the Clara Berg Youtube video called her an "inspiration" or "inspirational", but I got bored while I was doing it and stopped. And while I realize that Clara's case is a bit different than what Stella Young outlined in the passage above, in that she's doing something very different than most of her non-disabled peers are, it's really not in a more fundamental way. Clara Berg is a kid doing what she likes to do. It just happens to be very complicated ballet, at which she's obviously very talented. Nothing inspirational there, just a kid being a kid.

I wish that the video and the media around it would celebrate Clara Berg for that talent alone, and not for being an "autistic girl with DiGeorge Syndrome" or "an autistic ballerina" who just *happens* to be amazingly talented at ballet. Celebrate the person first and the amazing things that they do - not the diagnosis. Even if the autism expert in the Toronto Star article seems to think that it's the diagnosis that makes part of what she's achieved possible. Has he met her? How can he be so sure?

There. That's my rant for the day. Dance on Clara Berg. You're very talented. And while I can't be sure without talking to you, of course, I'm reasonably confident that you're not dancing to inspire the rest of us.

Read the entire Stella Young article here. It's awesome.  http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-07-03/young-inspiration-porn/4107006)


  1. Clara Berg is Clara Berg. Clara does what she loves and apparently what she is good at. Inspirational? Yes, anyone who loves what they do is inspirational, I am inspired by a good dancer, a CP kid who takes his first step, a caregiver who devotes his or her life to care for a disabled child or adult, a person who has only $ 100 and gives it all away to a person in need. Inspiration comes from any act of kindness, passion, exceeding apparent limitations...especially kindness, an act too infrequently observed on the planet. I'm inspired that Clara is being Clara, just as I am inspired that severely disabled kids keep breathing against all odds. These are stories buried in parents' hearts. BTW, I have great difficulty and angst when I see the words porn and inspiration together regardless of the context although I acknowledge it's a blogging topic. Cheers!

  2. As usual, Phil, you have made me think. While I'm not entirely comfortable with the phrase "inspiration porn" myself (it *is* a difficult one to wrap oneself around), I use it because it's a concept that does affect people with disabilities, I believe. And yet, as your comment illustrates, *everyone* should probably find a way to gracefully accept and acknowledge that, to someone, they very likely are inspirational - perhaps because of a reason to which they never gave a second thought.
    I love the phrase, "These are stories buried in a parent's heart", by the way.
    Thank you for reading and for commenting. :)