Dancing with the stars is the kind of reality TV I can actually get into. I’m rooting not just for the novice dancers and their journey towards gracefulness, but also for the professional dancers and their ability to take someone with little to no ability into a rough approximation of Ginger Rogers or Fred Astaire. They need to be able to teach anyone, from the body conscious to the overly confident, all while cameras are rolling and capturing their every exasperated sigh and exalted cheer. It’s genuinely inspiring.
And last week, a favorite professional of mine, Tony Dovolani, took to the stage with his star partner, actress Marla Maples, in costumes of bright yellow and blue: the colors attributed to autism awareness. And on Tony’s canary yellow lapel? A beautiful, glittering blue puzzle piece lapel pin, which anyone familiar with autism will know is the official symbol of the disease. The dance itself didn’t relate in any direct way to autism, and when interviewed after the dance, there was no mention of autism, but to anyone with an autistic child in their life, or someone like me who makes it her job to know about the various awareness causes out there, it was beautifully clear that Tony supported and celebrated autism awareness.
It led me to look into the reason behind the costumes, figuring there must be more to it than it simply being Autism Awareness Month, and there is. Tony has 7 year old twins, a girl and boy, and the little boy, Adrian, has autism. Tony pointed out in an interview from 2014 that it has taught him so much about appreciating a person for what they are and not what they struggle with, and that you can learn from everyone, especially a child with something like autism.
This revelation was quite inspiring and telling to me, because as a coach he has always appeared very patient, thoughtful, and positive in his approach to dealing with the different struggles that his various famous students have dealt with. And in part that has to do with his continued appreciation and personal growth from having a son with autism.
In general I thought it was really cool that Tony brought something personal as well as universal into this last week’s dance without letting it overshadow the competition: the beautiful costumes spoke for themselves and led to someone like myself, and I have no doubt, many others, to do a little research into the costumes. Without saying a word he raised awareness for autism, and that is exactly what lapel pins are supposed to do: start a conversation, serve as a reminder, and celebrate people while honoring their struggles. And all it takes is one bright blue puzzle piece lapel pin.