One of the most magnificent feelings is that of being included. Being asked to take part in something, being welcomed and wanted feels great - and it's just as nice to give as receive.
For the most part, being included is pretty standard fare. But there can be exclusions for a variety of reasons.
Generally, when a person is not included, it's due to someone thinking they don't belong, wouldn't fit in, would offend someone or perhaps there is a budget constraint or maximum number of participants.
In the non-typical, diverse-ability world, being included is not the norm.
A more the merrier sort, I'm always happily amazed when mixing groups of people from different walks of life brings out the best in everyone.
People can learn things they may have never experienced. All we have to do is give the opportunity to put a group of people in the same place with some common goals.
Our family has always been into fitness and sports. In addition to skiing, soccer and swimming, all our kids were asked if they wanted to go into dance classes. I had danced from the age of five and saw it as a great way to learn to move and strengthen your body and soul.
Just like her siblings, when our daughter Emma was a little girl in dance class, she held her own and was at the same level as most of the students. She may have looked a bit different I guess, as she has Down syndrome, but she was accepted and the world was her stage.
As she grew older, the dances became more difficult and, although she tried hard, she had to make a choice to stay or try something new. They were sorry to see her go as she loved the studio, but she simply couldn't keep up.
Emma was always a great swimmer and skier. She began to swim, ski and do rhythmic gymnastics through the Special Olympic program.
She loved the entire experience, the friends and volunteer coaches, and of course was welcome and included.
Focusing on rhythmic and swim, she went on to win provincial medals and has been selected again this year to represent our region. Emma is proud of her accomplishments, and so are we.
This year, when we went to register, she announced she would only be taking part in the rhythmic portion of the program. When asked why, Emma said she had done enough swimming and was ready to try something new.
We live near the amazing H20 facility in the Mission. Emma went through the class schedule and decided she wanted to try Zumba.
Although I had been doing Zumba for a few years, I was a bit concerned the same situation would happen and Emma wouldn't be able to keep up. So said I would be happy to attend with her.
I adjusted my work schedule and we came up with a few times a week we could both go.
For those unfamiliar with Zumba, it is said to have started in Florida with a Spanish aerobics teacher forgetting his mainstream music and replacing it with a Hispanic tape from his car.
It is now popular throughout the world and is great fun.
There is not a lot of speaking in the classes, but the music is heady and inspiring, the moves intense and flowing, not too simple but not too hard. However, it takes the best of dancers a few times to get all the moves.
So when our Emma said she wanted to take part, I hoped for the best and off we went.
H20's Zumba classes are very popular and take a maximum of 50 people. The energy in the room is encouraging. Fellow dancers are friendly and welcoming. As in most dance studios, one wall is covered in mirrors to help you follow. They have great sound system and well-trained staff.
It occurred to me as I looked around the room, this was certainly not a typical dance class. There were all ages, some in amazing shape, some who may never have exercised, some women, a few men, some with their own challenges, and Emma and I.
As the music started, everyone was encouraged to take part at their own level, some safety notes were given, introductions made and we were told the most important thing we could do was have fun.
No one was scoring how many moves we got right or wrong, everyone felt included, inspired and welcome. From what I saw, everyone had a great workout and left smiling.
Emma did really well. I had a fellow dancer tell me that if they couldn't figure out a move, they would watch Emma for pointers. I guess she was fitting in!
A friend of Emma's, Carly, is a regular at Zumba and also works at H20 in the swim program. Carly says she loves it there. Like Emma, she has a diverse ability.
After a few months, my schedule changed, which meant Emma had to go to other classes at H20. Thanks to her ease and other participants' and instructors' inclusion, I felt no need to attend those classes with her.
Inspired by all this inclusion, I spoke to Zumba guru Jen, who shared the philosophy of the YMCA and impressed me with the level of knowledge staff and volunteers need to instruct at H20.
She truly has a passion to help all her students have the best experience possible.
All the instructors we've met echo Jen's enthusiasm and inspire us students to have a blast.
I reflected on my first Zumba class, three years ago, and how it helped me start to "feel" again after losing my husband. I remember almost crying because if felt so good to be dancing. I felt welcome and included and was probably very fragile at the time, but it helped my body and soul. Fellow students encouraged me, and the experience helped me get on my journey through grieving.
It occurred to me that others in the classes are on their own journey and have their own stories to share, so I started listening.
The first woman I spoke to shared that although she is retired, between babysitting her grandchildren and looking after her ill husband, this is the only thing she does for herself.
Another said she had not been allowed to dance as a child and found not only was she pretty good at it, she loves the Latino beat and has lost weight by taking part in the classes. She felt and looked great.
Listening to the few men in the class, they love the exercise and the fun. One chap had worked with women for decades in banking and said being one of only two regular guys in the class makes no difference at all.
One gal had danced as a child, put away her dance shoes then picked them up 30 years later. For her, a writer who can generally be found hunched over her desk, it was the chance to experience the many benefits that Zumba brings one in a non-judgmental way.
Every shape, size and ability are welcome. Everyone I spoke to agreed the instructor sets the tone of the class, the participants their level of exercise, and the result is a group of happy, sweaty people from all walks of life having together.
I feel blessed to have taken the plunge, to be part of the experience. Emma, and everyone who takes part at H20, has benefitted from being included and by welcoming others.
Allison McNeill is stepmum to two and mum to four, one of whom happens to have a developmental disability.