Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Daggers Made Of Cardboard Wrapped In Silver Paper

I absolutely loathe dancing. I don’t think any man over a certain age should engage in any kind of dancing. It’s just embarrassing. It’s just about acceptable if you are a professional (and even then only if you promise never to be Brendan Cole) but most men just look ridiculous as they awkwardly stumble around like drug addled peacocks. Look at Ed Balls. Some clearly saw his efforts as entertainment but I just view it as unwatchable and cringeworthy. The campaign to STOP DANCING starts here, on Memoirs Of A Fire Hazard.

Perhaps this is because I have some very dark memories involving dance. The concept of wheelchair dance fills me with dread to this day. This was actually a thing….a real lesson on our curriculum for far longer than it should have been during my school days. The nadir came when we were forced to participate in something called Indian dance. A lady would come in to the school once a week and teach us some of the most mortifying moves, all carried out to a soundtrack previously rejected by Bollywood. And there were props. Daggers made of cardboard wrapped in silver paper (could even have been tin foil but the memories are sketchy on that one) and topped off with rolled up bits of coloured paper meant to represent precious stones. I’m going to have to stop describing this in any more detail now lest I wake up screaming in the middle of the night tonight. Post Indian Dance Trauma is a very real condition as far as I’m concerned.

Yet despite all of this anti-dancery I do respect the right of other disabled people and wheelchair users to disagree and so participate if they wish to do so. So reading about 54-year-old Frank Walden today rather got my back up. Mr Walden was banned from something called a Jive Addiction event in October because the organisers said that his wheelchair was damaging the dance floor. Apparently the rules of the competition (and others like it) stipulate that dancers are not allowed to use any objects that are likely to cause damage to the dance floor. Cowering behind this ruling, the company organising the event insist that the ban on Mr Walden was not discriminatory.

Unsurprisingly, Mr Walden is suing the company believing, rightly I think, that he is a victim of discrimination under the Equality Act. He has been wheelchair dancing for 15 years after he was left paralysed by an accident way back in 1984. Before that he had enjoyed disco and northern soul dancing, which only makes me want to punch him in the face even more. Have you seen those northern soul dancers from the early 80’s? There is a film about it in which Steve Coogan briefly features. Basically it is just a lot of bobbing up and down on the spot while wearing a look on your face that suggests you don’t actually know where you are. Yet despite my distaste of this practice, Mr Walden is still within his rights to sue the company to my mind.

Not content with trying to stop Mr Walden from embarking on his admittedly berserk hobby, the organisers had to throw a dollop of humiliation into the mix also. He was asked to stop dancing at the Jive Addiction event after someone approached him and informed him that his wheelchair had left a black mark on the dance floor. Quite why he didn’t at that point decide to leave a couple of black marks around the interfering gobshite’s eyes is anyone’s guess. What is more remarkable is that is the first time in Mr Walden’s 15 years of wheelchair dancing that anyone has put a stop to his antics for the heinous crime of damaging the surface of the dance floor.

This reminds me of the time I tried crown green bowling. I was watching the Commonwealth Games event a few years ago and decided, on the loopiest of whims (I have whims occasionally, as my previous entry regarding cutting my own hair proves) that I would have a go at it myself. So I went down to my local club to get the skinny on it. I say local, it was in Southport. Local is such a vague definition. Yesterday I was watching an NFL game between the Carolina Panthers and the Oakland Raiders during which the commentator pointed out that the Carolina coach was experiencing a homecoming as he grew up ‘just 100 miles south of here’. Just 100 miles? That’s from here to fucking Birmingham. It’s all relative I suppose.

So anyway after a 45-minute drive out there I was told that yes, I could have a game no problem, but not in the wheelchair that I had arrived in. They don’t let every day or even sports wheelchairs on their precious surfaces in crown green bowling, so instead you are expected to transfer to quite the most hideous contraption masquerading as a mobility aid that it has ever been your displeasure to look upon. I couldn’t even operate the thing myself. Emma had to push me around on the green which was both undignified and likely to lead her into a state of exhaustion were we to make a habit of playing. We have not been back near a bowling green since.

But at least I was allowed to play, in a fashion. Mr Walden was royally excluded from participating in the Jive Addiction event. It’s only one event but if others take their lead from the organisers of that event then Mr Walden may have to look for a new hobby which, whatever you think of dancing, and furthermore dancing in a wheelchair, is preposterous and wrong. Also, it could have a serious impact on his continued good health;

“I think if I hadn’t found jive dancing I would probably be dead.” He told the BBC.

“It’s very easy if you are paralysed to put on a lot of weight, especially in the winter when I used to suffer chronic chest and kidney infections.”

This is so true. I only have to look at a Tescos Bakewell and I put on three stone. Since my inglorious wheelchair basketball career ended I have become, shall we say, a little portlier.

“With dancing, aswell as getting the exercise, I get out and meet lots of really, really lovely people.” Continued Mr Walden, absolutely not convincing me to take it up even if it will slim me down a touch.

But clearly this is a big deal. A significant part of his life, without which he would not find the same level of fulfilment. Still, as long as your fucking floor is clean, eh? Perhaps the most salient point that Mr Walden makes is about how dancing, as irksome and awkward as some of us find it, offers a genuine level of integration between disabled and able-bodied people. The kind of integration, in fact that something like Paralympic sport does not facilitate, for obvious reasons. Haven’t we moved on from what whiffs suspiciously of an attempt to segregate Mr Walden and others like him from the able-bodied population? Are we really telling him to stick with his own kind lest our dance floors get a little bit scuffed? I should hope not.

The last word should be left to Mr Walden’s lawyer, Chris Fry, who seems to have hit the nail on the head by explaining that;

“If you have a policy which says wheelchair users are not allowed on the dance floor, then essentially you are preventing disabled people from participating in this activity.”

Seems a reasonable assertion.

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