Dancing in my sleep.


I’ve talked to autistic people who like dancing. Even my brother used to go out dancing all the time. I’ve heard Larry Foard and Sue Rubin and Charles and a bunch of others go on at length about how amazing dancing can be for auties. I’ve never really danced much before. My approach to mandatory dances has often been to run off and spin in a corner somewhere (preferably near enough to the speakers to drown out sound). So while I’ve talked to autistic people who think my mannerisms (especially when they’re in response to things around me) are just like dancing and stuff, and who dance a lot themselves, I’ve never really considered myself one of “those crazy auties who actually like going and getting themselves overloaded dancing and stuff”.

I just got back from a conference on relationships and sexuality for people with developmental disabilities. It was a lot of fun. I learned a lot there. I got to meet Dave Hingsburger which was really cool since I’ve always admired his work (and got to meet a lot of self-advocates who said the same thing). And saw Tia Nellis speak (I’d heard a lot about her too). And I think I learned to dance.

The trick is basically to stick my body in the middle of all the noise and commotion. At that point I get to watch it bend every which way in response to all the stimulation, probably trying to find some way to handle it without screaming or something, but also in the midst of a synesthetic physical sensation that sort of guides the movement. Add in some echopraxia and it’s ready-made dance moves without even having to think about it.

Now, I was still fairly sick at that point. So I was exhausted, even though I was having fun. But these movements were mostly non-voluntary with a small number of voluntary additions. So this strange phenomenon started happening where I’d be dozing off and my body would still be dancing around just as vigorously. When I explained this to a staff person later, she said “I wish I could dance that well in my sleep.” But all those crazy dancing auties seem to now have me on their side, I want to try more of this. It was a lot of fun.

(Edit: Dave has blogged about meeting me too, and I have to say I think it’s cool being compared to a three-legged dog, at least in that context. ;-) )

About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods, which tell me who I am and where I belong in the world. I relate to objects as if they are alive, but as things with identities and properties all of their own, not as something human-like. Culturally I'm from a California Okie background. Crochet or otherwise create constantly, write poetry and paint when I can. Proud member of the developmental disability self-advocacy movement. I care a lot more about being a human being than I care about what categories I fit into.

14 responses »

  1. O wow. I didn’t mind the square dances we were taught as kids, loved the patterned order of them actually, but the free-form stuff people have done in the last forty years is not something I think I could do.

    Except in private. With nobody looking.

    Yah, it feels good to shake yer body in any way that feels good, but one always wonders if someone out there is about to write him a ticket for “failure to act normal.”

  2. I hadn’t danced much in the past year or more… than I just got an iPod which has lectures on it, and Chinese lessons and ….. very dance-able music on it.

    I was dancing in the kitchen to the music in my head (ear buds) and my dog looked astonished. I said, “(the autistic offspring) has seem me dance in the kitchen many times when xe was growing up, but the dog probably hasn’t seen it before.” I’ve had the dog almost 6 years, so maybe it has been 6 years since I’ve danced in the kitchen… not sure. Anyway, it was fun. I danced at work, too, for the first time, because of the iPod music. No one else was around.

    I don’t think I’d like to dance at a “dance” like you did, though. I like my aut-dancing. I can control the music, the volume and when it all ends.

    That’s great that you got to meet people you have admired.

    I’m reading “Reasonable People.” (Ralph Savarese) I guess you know you are quoted in there. I’m half way through and I like it alot, except for the “f” words that pop up occasionally. I can’t wait to read DJ’s chapter at the end.

  3. Trust me, being compared to a three legged dog is high compliment from me. Especially that dog in that moment. It was wonderful hooking up with you at the conference … more please.

  4. Me I’m different, but then I would be.

    What do you call dancing, the social variety or the wild flings to music that my somewhat time wracked body can’t do anymore.

    I used to need space to dance. Last time in public unless you count autscape where I attempted to out Anderson, Ian Anderson, was at a college prom, where as well as dancing Astaire like, but sans his elegance with my cane in my top hat, white tie and tails (literally) I also entertained the floor with my chair between my teeth spinning routine.

  5. i am so glad you got to go to that conference. when i read where it would be, i was hoping you could get there.

  6. If you don’t mind my updating about the book. (If you do mind, please, don’t post this comment)

    The book gets really awful in the middle, not awful writing but sad and almost unremittingly sad. I had to skip over a bunch of pages because it had become so much of the same, though the story was moving foreward and I think the detail was necessary to give the complete picture it just was too much for me. At the point I started skipping over pages I was thinking, “you people need to stop helping this kid examine and examine and examine his abuse.” The place where I picked up reading again the author was saying the same thing about himself wondering if they had done DJ wrong by helping him go over and over and over the experience. DJ was obsessing or perseverating on the abuse and his abandonment.

    I don’t know how that could have been dealt with differently, but I’m afraid that the parents were a bit too much in love with psychotherapy type stuff. I don’t know how they could have moved DJ on to another topic since the abuse was so awful and the fact that he was adopted and in fear of being abandoned again was such a big thing (as it would be to any kid, I imagine).

    I have to go back and read some parts I skimmed through, about FC (the second to the last chapter) that looked good.

    I think people need to be warned that book might stir up PTSD or bad memories or abandonment issues or whatever. DJ was badly abused, it’s described in a respectful and minimal way by his dad and DJ’s comments about it are featured quite a bit.

  7. I jump and spin around in my house in a manner that might be something like dancing but I guess I never thought of it that way. I’m definitely not a public dancer, though…I’ve been to a few weddings of people I know and generally the idea of getting out on the floor is too overwhelming. Dances where you have to think about where your feet are at any given time never really worked for me.

  8. i dance like the character elaine on seinfeld, or like that asian guy who got famous for being really bad at american idol. but hey, it’s fun.
    having all kinds of rhythm and stuff, i imagine you dance well, in some way that just came to you. seems like another one of those things you get suddenly?

  9. Interesting……….

    Quite often when Athena or I are off on a mind-journey, we’re dancing. Not physically, as in the body moving around much, but in our minds…………we’re dancing all over the place. It’s really cool………Athena loves to imagine me dancing all over the place…..breakdancing and handstands and flips and stuff, none of which either of us can do outside our imagination (at least, not yet, learning some of those things might be of interest to us at some point. )

    In fact we were doing that yesterday. Dancing……….somewhere else.


  10. Sounds like a fun discussion (sexuality is always interesting) and it’s great to get the exercise. I dance in private (more because of the controlled predictability of that experiment in the absence of other free-willed moving bodies) but would like to try more of the public thing at some point. I have gone to a club before for goths and actually fit in rather nicely/left rather undisturbed by it all and kind of liked the subdued stimulatory nature of it.

  11. The best public dancing I have been able to do is in the mosh pit at a heavy metal/rock concert. Just being able to jump around was pure bliss for me :).

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