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.