Monday, July 31, 2006

If you saw a female dressed in a suit walking like a cowboy today, that would be me. I managed to re-injure my knee and strain my - for lack of a better word - groin over the weekend. Now I know why those footballers get put out of action for so long.

No, you perverts. Get your minds out of the gutter. I managed to hurt myself while teaching intellectually disabled adults how to dance when I took part in Care to Dance on Saturday.

Care to Dance is organised by the YMCA of Singapore and conducted by the Lindy Hop Ensemble. In a nutshell, it's "all about unleashing youthful energy, developing creative potential, giving back to the community" and is organised as part of the SHINE youth festival. There are four Care to Dance sessions. Each session features two different dances: the Bombay Boogie, a Bollywood-inspired dance, and a dance from the '40s to the '70s, depending on the session. Volunteers will learn these dances in the morning, and teach it to the beneficiaries in the afternoon.

Not that many people knew I was volunteering. The reason is clearly illustrated in the exchange between S., the guy I had that first date with, and I during said date.

Me: I'm a capitalist consumer. I'm not like [mutual friend]. I don't care about people. I only like animals.
[later on]
S.: So what dance plans do you have?
Me: I'm teaching underprivileged kids* how to dance.
S.: Ooooh. You're not so tough after all. You're going to ruin your reputation if you keep that up!
Me: Shhh! Don't tell anyone!

[*I later found out that the beneficiaries for my session had been changed.]

The day started out with a series of dance workshops teaching the 90 volunteers the different dance steps we would be teaching the beneficiaries coming later that day. This was followed by an informational session on how to deal with the beneficiaries. On that particular day, the beneficiaries turned out to be intellectually disabled adults from MINDS, Bishan Home for the Intellectually Disabled, Y Stars and the Association of Persons with Special Needs.

Now, I would much rather have helped out with the sessions that had beneficiaries from children's homes given that I, and I'm sure many other people as well, am not too sure how to handle well, the intellectually disabled. But I was determined to give this my best shot.

During the info session, one of the ice-breaker games that the facilitators suggested was called "Squirrel and Tree," which is a little too complicated to explain here. Suffice it to say that if you're playing the game, and you're a squirrel (and yes, you will be a squirrel at some point during the game if you play it for any amount of time), you will be squatting. A lot. And that's how I injured myself. I'm getting old after all, and I was never meant to be an ah beng.

After lunch, the beneficiaries arrived. Each group took care of a group from one of the charities. In our case, it was one of the groups from Bishan Home. Our group was large enough that one of us was assigned to one of the beneficiaries. The beneficiary I ended up with, FT, was a very quiet, middle-aged (late 40s, early 50s) male and Felix, the social worker from the home, told me that FT liked familiar faces and would probably take a very long time to respond to me, and not to be disheartened if he didn't warm up to me at all that day.

And indeed, that proved to be the case. I spoke to him in a mixture of English and Mandarin, and while he glanced at me, his only response was either a nod, or a hand gesture. The group played a couple of icebreakers (no, not "Squirrel and Tree" which we felt was way too complicated to be played with our beneficiaries) and FT appeared to relax just a little.

During the Bombay Boogie dance workshop, I managed to get FT's attention for a small part of it, and he tended to follow my footwork, although his attention tended to wander very quickly. I decided not to press him too much for this particular segment, because I felt the dance was a little too difficult for even the volunteers, and Felix had asked us not to tire them out too much after all. However, when one of the regular volunteers from the home came around and stood in front of him, doing the gestures, FT's eyes would brighten up and he would follow. I definitely saw what Felix meant about FT needed familiarity.

The next dance was a disco-themed dance and at first, I was worried that FT was too tired to learn, and again I didn't want to push him. He definitely wasn't interested in the first part of the dance, but I kept trying (by gently touching him on the shoulder and doing the moves with him) and to my delight, he really got into the spirit of the second part. I don't think it had anything much to do with me as I think one of the social workers was standing off to the side, encouraging him to have fun. Nevertheless, seeing the grin on his face as he followed my hand movements felt good.

At the end of the entire session, I guided him back to his social worker. As the group left to return to their bus, I gave him a little wave and was rewarded by a return wave, and that definitely made everything all worthwhile.

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