Compassion is all-inclusive. Compassion knows no boundaries.

Compassion comes with awareness, and awareness breaks all narrow territories.

Amit Ray

MY WHY & MY STORY

I've been inclusive my whole life.

I grew up in a small town in Idaho in a big family of six siblings. We rode horses, swam in horse troughs, camped way up in the mountains, and fished out of mountain lakes. We rode Honda 90's and got chased by bulls. We got bucked off horses, watched as our dad get bucked off horses, and water skied by the age of six on little red skis on the Payette lake. Our grandparents were true old school. They grew a humongous garden, canned everything, and played cards in the evening. We learned church songs, grandma tried to teach us the piano, and we worked hard. My older sister and I helped buck hay and moved pipes at the age of 12. This was what I consider a true Idaho life. Some may call it 'growing up country.'


But that's not really what this is all about. It's about my little sister, Lacey, who taught me about being inclusive and adaptive. I learned that with encouragement, support, never giving up, we can change lives for the better and allow those often excluded a real feeling and sense of belonging.

My sister Lacey was just like the rest of us, WILD! We couldn't help it.
We had freedom, and we used up every ounce of it. Due to this wild toughness of our family, my sister was never left behind, and it gave her the moxie to never stop.
Lacey was in a horrific accident at the age of 16 months, this caused a loss of connection to her lower spine at T9. She was deemed a paraplegic, but Lacey never fit that definition. The combination of little adult supervision, being safe to roam in nature, and sheer resiliency, we siblings took Lacey with us EVERYWHERE to do EVERYTHING.

Yep. Grandpa put her in a milk cart with our baby sister and away they'd go, bumping over dirt roads. She swam in ditches, climbed up rocks, and slid down hills to hot springs. Lacey floated rivers, was towed behind the boat on the "surfboard" and got bucked off ponies just like the rest of us. She belonged. We were an inclusive family before it was even a buzz word. This was our life, and it included a sister who needed support, assistance, and adapting, and we did it willingly, no matter what. She was never left behind.

In 2004 Lacey agreed to let me take her up a 150-foot climb in the City of Rocks. I was tied to the rope below and pushed her up the rock wall as she climbed when needed. Meanwhile, a strong friend pulled from the top to accomplish this amazing feat. We did it, and it was monumental!!!

You would have to ask Lacey what she thought about this inclusive image I'm painting in this story. I know she'd be willing to discuss it. Lacey has gone on to do many amazing things and has traveled the world. She has also endured tremendous challenges. I'm not certain where her drive comes from, but I'd like to think it had a little to do with her knowing she belonged and could do anything with some support and creativity. I learned all I know about what belonging means in a world where I watched my sister excluded from "normal" society with so much denied access. It didn't make any sense to me growing up. We always made sure Lacey could do what we were.

It was only later that I discovered that people with disabilities were discriminated against and where not considered in building plans, school activities, and the arts were not even on the radar. I also didn't know that my life would take part in changing communities' and societies' perspectives about people with disabilities, and our collective need for accessibility.

Go to Lacey's website: BraveLace.com, Say HELLO, and check out her wonderful talents.

 

Flashing forward many years and many Paralympic awards World Cup wins later (Lacey's not mine), I was emerging from an abusive marriage of 10 years, broken, not really knowing who I was except a mother with 2 children and scared to death.

 

I knew I needed to heal and find who I was and what my purpose and passions were in the world. I decided to go back to school. No easy task as a single mother making minimum wage with 2 small children. While at school studying Psychology, Sociology, and Conflict Resolution, I decided to Minor in Dance. That first day in a dance studio after years away from my passion, was a tremendous hurdle for me. I was 32 years old, taking beginning ballet! I felt awkward, old, and completely uncoordinated. I took it in stride and with support of my instructors, Marla Hansen prodding me. I overcame many obstacles and emerged in a place of healing and hope.

 

While I was finishing my Dance Minor in college in 2010, I decided to take all my love of dance, healing, and the psychology of dance into choreography. I imagined a piece that was unique and had never been done before in the BSU Dance department. The image I had was a dance that included my sister, Lacey. This was a piece that would allow her to express herself freely, and would also allow others to experience dance in a way that included different talents and expression that are outside the norm in the dance world.

The choreography and rehearsal were going as planned until one night during rehearsal, my sister called me over and quietly said, "I can't do this." I looked at her, confused, not understanding what she meant. Again she said, "I feel gross and disgusting compared to the other dancers. I feel like a lump." My heart sank. I had no idea she was feeling this way, and it hurt to know she was having a difficult time with what I was asking her to do. I had requested that she be out of her chair the entire dance. This meant she was dragged, pulled on fabric, and at one point, lifted in the air by the dancers.

 

It was as if I saw my sister in a new way for the very first time. She was vulnerable. This was not an image of her I had ever felt. She was tough, full of determination, and brave. And yet at that moment, I had a strong feeling of compassion and tenderness that was so beautiful. I was overcome by a need to protect her. At the same time, I knew in my heart for no reason I could understand until now, that it was important for Lacey to be vulnerable and allow herself to be seen. More importantly, I wanted her to feel in her body and what it was like to be this vulnerable and this raw. I said, "Lacey, I don't know why, but I need you to trust me. Trust this process." She was quiet for a few moments and then looked up and said, "Ok." It was a moment I've never forgotten. I was going on pure intuitive inspiration, and my sister was trusting me to get her through this very confronting process.

One night after rehearsal, all the dancers said their goodbyes and left for the night. While I was getting in my car to drive home, I got a phone call. It was Lacey. She was sobbing and trying to talk through the sobs. I thought something terrible had happened on the way home and was mortified. I shouted, "Lacey, are you Ok?" No reply, just more sobbing. I yelled again. "Lacey!" She cried, "Yes, yes. I'm fine. I just am having the most profound experience!" I was so relieved the crying was from some sort of revelation and not a car accident.

 

She proceeded to tell me how she had a break-through, and she felt amazing IN her body and how "She felt beautiful in her body for the first time in her life."

My heart swelled with love and compassion for my amazing sister. She had the trust and ability to go through this challenging process and came through it transformed. 

I was so full of love and hope and amazement at that moment.

It was one of those Big Life moments that changes you forever.

It was simple and real and full of pure love.

I'm not sure what I said to Lacey, I was to smitten by the moment and by her wonderful realization. What I said and how I felt weren't important to me. It was what the moment had taught me.

What that moment gave me was greater compassion, clarity, and understanding into the connection between vulnerability, dance/movement, self-compassion, trust, and belonging. It was like a lightning bolt of wisdom shot into my being that said, 

"Dance and movement heal people's hearts and minds. Most everyone can have a profound experience and learn compassion through dance and movement when they are supported and have a caring environment in which they can move in their unique way."

That moment has become a part of me and has a lovely sweet home in my heart.

It is the reason I do what I do today, it is my WHY.

It is the reason when asked to teach adaptive dance for the City of Boise I jumped on board, grew the program for over 200 people to experience dance from all over the state, for 4 years. It is why I decided to expand my skills to yoga and created a unique adaptive program for the City of Boise bringing accessible yoga to people of different abilities.

My why is the reason I have taught numerous dance camps, workshops, and curriculum for the Lotus Tree of Boise, The National Federation for the Blind, the Boise Transitional Programs STEP, and West Ada Transitional and for High Valley Developmental.

My why is the reason I sought out the Open Arms Dance Project and danced and choreographed for them for 8 years.

My why is a powerful force, it moves me; heart and soul.

It makes me reflect and move forward with compassion in all that I do. It is the reason I continue to expand my understanding between movement and compassion, and why I started a business solely to make dance and yoga and movement accessible for everyone and practice dance movement therapy. 

My why is my drive to spread compassion through inclusive dance education, teaching at the university level to the young graduates going out into the world with their light and wisdom. They will now have the skills to choreograph consciously and in a way that supports an inclusive philosophy, and teach in a way that includes rather then excludes. I am excited about sharing my love and experience with other organizations with similar core values. These include Wasatch Adaptive Sports, Idaho Dance Theatre, JUMP Boise, BYU Dance Education Program, College of Southern Idaho Dance program, Idaho Parents Unlimited, and many more.

I believe, my experiences growing up inclusive and understanding movement as a compassionate gift for everyone, has opened the door to my true self and to who I am today.

Thank you to all my students, parents, and caregivers. It's just getting better and better! 

 

"UPLIFTING LIVES and learning compassion for ourselves and others through movement is what it's all about! Allowing our light to shine in all our unique ways!"

Sincerely, Ali

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