What Seeing Selma Blair On 'Dancing with the Stars' Means to a Neurodivergent Person

One writer with dyspraxia shares her perspective on the importance of Blair appearing on the popular TV show.

Selma Blair
Photo: Courtesy of ABC

It's always exciting to see a new cast of celebrities display their moves on Dancing with the Stars. And it was actress Selma Blair, known for her roles in Cruel Intentions and Legally Blonde, who got people talking the most after the first episode of season 31 premiered on Disney+ on September 19, 2022. However, her appearance on the long-running series is about so much more than having a moment in the spotlightfor her and many people watching at home with chronic illnesses, including me.

In February 2018, Blair lost feeling in her left leg during a runway appearance at New York Fashion Week, she told Town & Country in April 2021. Six months later, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a condition in which the immune system attacks the protective sheath that covers nerve fibers, causing communication problems between the brain and the body, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Now, Blair's MS is in remission, and she's clearly not letting it stop her from doing anything, including going on a dance competition TV show. As a neurodivergent dyspraxic, seeing her compete on the show is deeply meaningful to me. I was diagnosed with dyspraxia when I was a child. It's a condition that affects coordination and the processing of movements, such as navigating the limitations of my environment. Yes, that includes dancing.

The only reason I was able to learn how to swim, do ballet, and practice basic yoga is because I had people around me who were willing to take an alternative approach to teaching me. Instructors with patience and the ability to think outside the box demonstrated movements I was unfamiliar with non-verbally, which is the easiest way for me to process them. This includes written instructions, videos, and pictures with visual demonstrations. I've also learned from a dyspraxic cardio fitness instructor who would describe universally familiar movements, such as sweeping papers off a table or kicking a gate open, instead of telling me which direction to move my hands or legs.

Rosemary richings, a writer with dyspraxia, on seeing selma blair perform on dancing with the stars

To me, how heavily an illness defines someone depends on how that person is treated.

— Rosemary richings, a writer with dyspraxia, on seeing selma blair perform on dancing with the stars

I noticed this kind of patience and creativity while watching Blair work with her partner, veteran professional dancer Sasha Farber, on Dancing with the Stars. In her first appearance on screen, Blair expresses her concerns about how her MS might affect her performance. She mentions having no feeling in her left leg and is nervous about her lack of balance. However, Farber seems to have created a rehearsal and choreography process that accommodates Blair, with a focus on how he can best support her.

Farber starts their rehearsals with calming breathing exercises, according to Entertainment Tonight. He also checks her level of soreness before they practice their routine, he said in the recent interview. Blair's symptoms tend to worsen when she's nervous, and Sasha wants to help her learn how to stay unconditionally calm, he added.

That said, when it came time for the pair to actually display their footwork on stage, I wondered if the judges' expectations would be disability-friendly enough. I knew Blair would have to adapt dance moves to what her body allowed her to do in the moment, but she pulled off the number beautifully, leaving her cane behind as she started the choreography and ultimately tying for third place in the premiere episode.

In the end, Farber and Blair's routine went smoothly, likely in large part due to Farber's investment in helping meet the actress's needs. Unfortunately, that's all too rare for the average disabled person, who often experiences some level of ableism (aka the discrimination and social prejudice of disabled people) throughout their life. Even those with invisible illnesses, such as visual and hearing impairments, neurodivergence, autoimmune disorders, and chronic pain or fatigue, may experience prejudice and feel the need to mask their symptoms.

Society spends so much time fixating on what disabled people can't do. People don't talk enough about how disabled people can experience barrier-free participation in things we enjoy. Blair is shattering stereotypes and proving that disabled people and those with chronic conditions can do all kinds of activities by stepping into the spotlight on Dancing with the Stars, and people are taking note.

"I'm just so touched, as somebody who is from the invisible illness community — seeing you come out here with your circumstances and just making everyone aware that you are fully able to do and achieve anything you put your mind to," says Judge Carrie Ann Inaba after watching Blair and Farber's number during the season premiere.

"You are a perfect example of somebody, you know, that doesn't let their illness define you," adds fellow judge Derek Hough. "What defines you is your strength and your courage, and you showed us that tonight."

To me, how heavily an illness defines someone depends on how that person is treated. Great things happen when others are willing to adapt to a disabled person's way of doing things. Blair and Farber's first dance and her presence on the show in general is a beautiful reminder of how true that is.

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