Skys the limit for performing Dancing Wheels

By on September 11, 2003

Friday evening, Sept. 5, the crowd poured into Buckman Theater to see a very unique performance put on by Dancing Wheels, a division of the Cleveland Ballet.

Mary Verdi-Fletcher founded this world-renowned dance company in 1980, and was one of the three dancers performing that night. Even though Fletcher was born with spina bifida, it was not going to stop her from following her dream of becoming a dancer. “I was born with the spirit to dance and I wasn’t going to sit back and watch everyone else do what I love,” she said.

“We have Dancing Wheels perform every year so people in the community understand that everybody has potential and the ability to perform, and by doing this we are trying to promote the inclusion of people with disabilities into cultural arts,” said Kim Hartmann, chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy.

“This is such a beautiful performance and when you see someone dance in a wheelchair, after a while you just see their expressions and forget they are in a wheelchair,” continued Hartmann.

Eyes widened when Fletcher took stage in her wheelchair, along with “stand-up” dancers Melaina Louise and Mac Dang. A hush grew in the audience when right in front of their eyes a brave woman was proving that just because she has a disability, it does not mean she is disabled.

The joy radiating from the dancers faces was contagious, as a room full of eyes lit up and were fixed on the captivating performance that lie in front of them.

“The audience and their energy was tremendous, and I could definitely feel their support and excitement,” said Fletcher.

Because of Fletcher’s dream, she and the other dancers have made many dreams come true for people of all abilities. Dancing Wheels has brought the merriment of dance to many in their Cleveland studio.

“Everyday in the studio, the spirits just soar,” said Dang.

Dang teaches visually impaired people how to dance using audio description. He demonstrated this by instructing everyone to close their eyes and follow his directions, which gave the audience a taste of how he teaches in the studio. Many people have questioned Dang on how he could possibly teach a blind person to dance, and he simply says, “Anything is difficult if you never try it.”

Melaina Louise is overwhelmed with pride to be a part of Dancing Wheels and says “the joy people get when they see us dance is our motive.”

Eight-year-old Clara, who came all the way from Massachusetts, was overwhelmed with happiness when she saw the inspiring group perform.

“Mary is a role model to both people with and without disabilities. She is especially a good role model for young girls,” said Louise.

When the performance came to an end, Clara took the stage to receive a brief “sit-down” dance lesson taught enthusiastically by Louise.

“I was very inspired by Dancing Wheels and I commend Mary for never giving up on her dream,” said Courtney Metsch, a junior marketing/advertising major.

“Because of her determination she has changed the lives of so many people,” Metsch added.

Not only does Dancing Wheels inspire people all over the world, the members of the dance company motivate each other.

“Mary has taught me a lot,” says Dang.

“She can transform a complete stranger in a matter of minutes. Seven years later and it is still happening to me,” he continued.

Dancing Wheels illustrates the fact that sky’s the limit for people with disabilities, or as Fletcher would say, people who are “differently-abled.”

These inspiring dancers left audience members smiling and teary-eyed, proving once again to be inspirational and life changing to so many.

“The joy on the faces of the people in the audience tells everything. This truly is how dancing pays off,” said Dang. “And if this is the case, we truly are the wealthiest people in the world.”


About Erin Kurbikoff