"Everything is beautiful at the ballet ..."
I can't help having that song from 'A Chorus Line' run through my head every time I book tickets to the National Ballet of Canada. I want 'everything to be beautiful at the ballet ...' primarily because we have been taking Ruby who has developed a love for dance. Her parents find her sitting at the computer watching scenes from Swan Lake and the Nutcracker. Though I don't really understand ballet - I enjoy it. We took Ruby to see the National Ballet of Canada's production of the Nutcracker and experienced a lot of difficulties. Because of ticketing snafus we ended up sitting in a completely different part of the theatre, not getting to experience her first ballet.
Anyone who know me knows that I complained and spoke to the National Ballet who seemed to really want to rectify the situation and, indeed, they instantly made changes to their website so that mistakes, like the one which we experienced wouldn't happen again. We went again to the Nutcracker and everything went well, Ruby had a terrific time, after announcing in a stage whisper, just after it started - 'Hey, I've seen this before!' An old hat at ballet at 5. We saw, when there, that Sleeping Beauty was coming and we asked her if she wanted to go ... she said 'yes' before the question was fully asked.
It took a bit of arranging, Ruby living in a different city and all, to get times and tickets. Once again, we took great care to get the seats, calling and specifically booking accessible seats. We'd been twice before and knew the theatre, knew which seats we wanted, they were selected and booked. We all arrived in a buoyant frame of mind. We'd spent much of the morning in the Saint Patrick's Day parade and Ruby had worked at handing out 'Words Hit' cards. Now it was time to relax and be swept up into a magical world. We were meeting a friend there so Joe suggested that Ruby and I go get our seats and he would wait for our friend to arrive.
On our way to our seats we were stopped, right in front of the elevators and informed that there was a problem with seating and and alternate arrangements had been made for us. I was very aware that we were in the way of the elevator doors and people were crowing around. We moved over and out of the way. I expressed concern that the seats we booked were not the seats we were getting. I was immediately worried about being able to sit together. A great way to start the experience, worried, wondering if I was to be separated again. I was told that we were all going to be in the 'royal box' ... the best seats in the house. To me, the best seats in the house were the one's that I booked.
So we had to wait for all to arrive, when Joe found out that we had been moved he nearly stormed away in anger. This is getting to him too. Ruby, of course was watching all of this. She knew that we didn't have our seats, she knew we were being moved, she knew that I was upset and that Joe was upset. I expressed, in no uncertain terms that this kind of treatment wasn't acceptable. I didn't want anything more than to be able to go to the ballet, go to my seat, enjoy the show. I want to experience the production on the stage, not the one that takes place trying to seat me, a wheelchair user, somewhere in the theatre.
The 'best seats in the house' in the 'Royal Box' were indeed good seats. However we were a long way from the stage, a long, long way. The seats we had booked were right up front. Right up where you can see the dancer's faces, this is where Ruby loves to sit, the only place she ever has. We all saw the ballet but, as we didn't know we were going to be so far away, we didn't bring our opera glasses, we didn't prepare Ruby for how the experience would be different. Going again, I wouldn't book the 'royal box' ... I'd try again to get us up front and close. But I gather we were lucky that they had any seats at all for us.
We go to the ballet because of Ruby. She has shown a real interest and we really want to encourage and support her as she discovers art and dance and theatre and ballet. We want her to savour the experience. We love watching her sit in her seat and move her arms around trying to copy what the ballerinas were doing. We love what she is learning there. Because, we know, Ruby is learning.
But I worry that while she learns about the ballet, she also learns about disability. She learns that being with me means that no seat is ever guaranteed; that being with me it's up in the air if we will sit together; if we will be in the same part of the theatre; if we will sit where we had planned to sit. That being with me means that people will come along and take our seats away and put us somewhere else. That being with me means inconvenience and unpredictability and fuss and bother. I worry that she is learning that being in a wheelchair - even though I try to teach her differently, is a problem.
It would be easy for Ruby to up thinking that the problem my
disability not their inability. Their inability isn't visible, other
than in its consequences. And even many of the consequences are
invisible, like what it does to my heart and soul to be centered out,
have my expectaions unmet; my trust broken; and then what it does,
I'll admit, to my self esteem. Disability verus Inability (or maybe
even unwillingness) - Ruby sees my chair - and she sees who sits in it.
She is too young yet to know that people may apologize with gentleness
yet manage to transfer the responsiblity for the problem to something
outside themselves and something under me - my wheelchair.
I, of course, have called the National Ballet, and I've spoken to them about what happened. They, of course and predictably, apologized and said that something would be done. I don't understand what that something is ... I book a seat, I book a set of seats, we get those seats. Ruby wants to go back again, she's asked to go to Alice in Wonderland, and we will go. Because she wants to go. I'm not going to let the fact that now when I book seats with the National Ballet, I have absolutely no faith that I will get those seats stop Ruby from experiencing ballet. I'm not going to let the fact that two times in three when attending the National Ballet, we've had problems and that I've had to deal with upset plans and rearrangements stop Ruby's learning to love the music and the movement and the moments of beauty at the ballet.
So I wish that the National Ballet would realize that they have a
responsibility to Ruby too ... that beyond putting on a show, they
should be teaching her that all customers are valuable. That having a
disability doesn't preclude an expectation of welcome. That having a
disability doesn't mean that Dave is inconvenient. That Dave is a
problem. That it just might be better if Dave didn't come along. I wish
that the National Ballet would somehow realize that the experience isn't
just about dance and it isn't about music - it's also about beauty.
Because everything is beautiful at the ballet ..
And welcome is beautiful.
And inclusion is beautiful.
And accessibility is beautiful.
And if the ballet is to be beautiful - it needs also to be a place where quality meets equality. And the National Ballet, failed us, again, on the second point, for the second time.