What can Zumba teach us about Inclusion and grinning? ft. Simon Monserrat
Is it possible to grin for 60 minutes straight? It is when you are doing Zumba while being on a wheelchair.
The first thing I asked Simon Monserrat when I got a chance to speak with him was, ´Why did you let me come to your Zumba class when you were aware that I was a wheelchair user? ´ He was surprised by my question and simply stated that one can still do it with hand movements so there was no need to say no. I sat there wondering that surely Zumba doesn’t discriminate and I had come to take a class to prove that.
60 minutes earlier I reached the venue, Fryshov, and entered a hall full of Swedish women from all walks of life. I wondered how many friends can I make and if they would invite me to their house for tea. I did not see anyone with a Hijab, definitely not anyone in a wheelchair, and just one other person who looked South Asian.
I questioned my belonging but then you start to belong once you show up. Right? I met and made friends with a girl called, Mariana to my right and I instantly knew that we would be cheering each other during the session. The session began with some power music and movements.
I not just adjusted my wheelchair armrests and tried to control my posture but also my ego and let go of any reservations about myself. But one thing that I could not control was the stupid grin on my face, I was feeling a new kind of joy. I started moving my hands and danced along compensating for my legs with my energy. I took a look around me and saw some participants struggling with catching up and I silently chuckled to myself thinking, having legs is not a prerequisite for anything.
I occasionally broke into loud laughs. I couldn’t believe I was doing this. I was dancing with a crowd. I was part of a group. I was able to follow. Two remarkable things were happening. One, I was able to modify any steps that needed legs or going in circles to something that had equal intensity and second, I was adapting to the dance according to what my body allowed and the capacity kept growing.
These are two keywords for anyone to understand inclusion. To allow a safe space for modifications and letting people adapt according to their abilities.
At one point the song that came on was Pasoori, a very popular Pakistani track by Shae Gill and Ali Sethi and this was matched with Bhangra moves. I think I lost my shit there and turned to Mariana to say,
THIS IS MY COUNTRY´S SONG!
I AM DOING ZUMBA ON A PAKISTANI SONG IN SWEDEN!
As 60 minutes went by and we all dived into a cooling zone, I felt my tears and a strange sense of accomplishment. Later when I met Simon after the session, I told him that this was possible because he did not put a barrier on it. He did not assume and instead let the possibility be.
In a world that was not designed keeping a disabled person in mind, we need people who have inclusion in mind. He opened the door and I found a way to adapt and modify and be part of the community. There is so much to experience in life and I am excited to push more boundaries and create space for myself and others like me and we all need people like Simon to walk the talk when it comes to inclusion.