WCA workshops show dance is for 'Every Body'

WCA workshops show dance is for 'Every Body'
Scott Shaw

Dancers DeMarco Sleeper, left, and Sara Lawrence-Sucato performing in “Incommunicado” as members of Cleveland's Dancing Wheels Company.


Dancing Wheels, a Cleveland-based professional dance company, in collaboration and partnering with the Wayne Arts Center, will present four “Dance for Every Body” workshops starting March 4.

This series of workshop classes engages participants of all ages and abilities, led by instructors from the Dancing Wheels Company & School who specialize in teaching physically integrated dance for people with and without disabilities. Each online interactive class starts with a warm-up sequence of dance exercises, continues by learning a dance routine to perform and finishes with a dance party allowing each person to express themselves through movement.

Workshops will be held via Zoom on March 4 and 16 and April 1 and 13 at a cost of $15 per participant per session. The link to register can be found at www.wayneartscenter.org.

WAC artistic director Brian Murphy considers the “Dance for Every Body” workshops as a starting point for providing more inclusive dance programming at WAC. Plus, the Wayne County Board of Developmental Disabilities also is participating.

“The people of Wayne County and Wooster should be very proud to have the Wayne Center of the Arts and Wayne Center Ballet to provide these interactive activities, especially during a pandemic," Murphy said. "This project is a great opportunity to learn about Dancing Wheels and what they have done for many communities and the impact they will have on Wayne County.”

Dancing Wheels, with a mission to be “a unifying expression of movement for all,” was founded in 1980 by Mary Verdi-Fletcher, a professional wheelchair dancer and the company's director, to unite the talents of dancers both with and without disabilities.

Now in its 40th anniversary season, the repertory-based touring dance company trains together with both stand-up and sit-down wheelchair dancers in an equitable and accessible environment, giving equal opportunity for all.

Team members have a commitment to enhance integration and diversity in the arts with works uniting people of all abilities; provide successful, independent and creative role models for those with disabilities; erase negative stereotypes about people with disabilities in professional careers, primarily in the arts; and instill greater understanding and professionalism in individuals of all ability levels.

Fletcher not only dances, but also secures funding for over 40% of her students with disabilities and those with socio-economic challenges to be able to attend the school on scholarship. She leads a company of 15 stand-up and sit-down dancers who travel the globe performing and educating thousands of individuals with and without disabilities, touring over 70 locations each year.

From the stage to the screen, the Dancing Wheels Company & School has made a mark on the way society views the artistry and ability of people who live with a disability.

Throughout her career Fletcher has been featured internationally on television, in numerous digital and print media articles, and has been honored with numerous awards including an Emmy, the Outstanding Young Clevelander Award, the James Brady Award for Rehabilitation, and the National Rehabilitation Achievement Award. She was one of 14 finalists for the National Leadership for a Changing World Award, a finalist for the Henry Betts Award, winner of the Ms. Wheelchair Ohio competition and first runner-up to Ms. Wheelchair America.

Sara Lawrence-Sucato, the company’s director of outreach and community engagement, joined Dancing Wheels as a dancer in 2006. She also is a company class instructor and has served as company tour manager for 13 years.

The school has reached over 5.5 million people through its educational outreach and professional performances, performing in schools, universities, concert halls, libraries, community centers and hospitals across the nation.

With a curriculum tailored to students k-12, participants will consider the stories of people whose bravery and confidence broke boundaries in world-changing ways.

Workshops can be tailored to the specific needs of an organization and last between one to three hours, and master classes also are part of the programming, in which an instructor from Dancing Wheels teaches various genres of dance such as modern, ballet or jazz for participants of mixed abilities or specifically for disabled or nondisabled groups.

Various types of programs from Dancing Wheels include “Far East of the Blues” as world-renowned choreographer Donald McKayle captures the mood and imagery evoked in the great jazz legend Duke Ellington’s “Far East Suite.”

“Sweet Radio Radicals” features music of female singers and songwriters whose music changed society, and “Unconquered Warriors” infuses traditional Chinese dance with modern dance and is based on the Asian culture of the Chinese Warriors.

“Walking on Clouds” uses stories of equality, mixing words and movement to explore humanity and the boundaries of differences and equality, both emotional and historical, between people with disabilities and people of color. In “First, Fierce and For Everyone,” students identify traits they can develop to create their own story.

“My interest for the dance department is to bring in programming that is diverse, interactive and community-driven,” Murphy said. “The Wayne Center Ballet has proven during a pandemic that programming is possible and growth within is attainable.”

Zoom in beginning March 4 at 12.30 p.m. and continue on March 16, April 1 and April 13 to join Dancing Wheels and its “Dance for Every Body” workshops. At the same time, support the Wayne Arts Center. Each workshop lasts one hour.

Information and registration can be found on either the Wayne Arts Center website at wayneartscenter.org or Dancing Wheels at www.dancingwheels.org.

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