Conservatory of Performing Arts Students Explore Inclusivity and Accessibility During Workshop with Dancing Wheels Company Monday, December 6, 2021
"This experience reminded me that dance is for everybody, not just those without physical disabilities ... I realized that there is great work happening in the dance world that is overlooked by able-bodied individuals, so it is important to expose ourselves to more."
Mary Verdi-Fletcher — the first professional wheelchair dancer in the United States and founder of Dancing Wheels Company — led a class about inclusivity and accessibility in dance during a visit to Point Park University's Conservatory of Performing Arts this semester.
Born with spina bifida, Verdi-Fletcher's mission is to offer full and equal access into the world of dance to those with or without disabilities. She founded Dancing Wheels Company in 1980, and travels around the world advocating for disability awareness and entertains thousands of people each year.
While on campus, Verdi-Fletcher and Sara Lawrence Sucato hosted a class with students to illustrate how dance is expressed by people of all abilities. Additionally, Dancing Wheels Company performed in front of a live audience at the Pittsburgh Playhouse.
In Their Own Words: What Students Are Saying About the Dancing Wheels Class
"This experience reminded me that dance is for everybody, not just those without physical disabilities. It opened my eyes to the skills required to navigate dancing in a wheelchair, such as determining the amount of force you need on the wheels, judging how to time out your motions, and quickly recognizing which arm must be used to go a certain direction. I realized that there is great work happening in the dance world that is overlooked by able-bodied individuals, so it is important to expose ourselves to more." — Olivia Brookes '22, a dance major from North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Ga.
"A key message that I took away from this experience is that of hope in the dance world. I often feel that dance doesn't celebrate artists of all backgrounds, and it was nice to see that dance isn't only about beautiful lines, but more about the heart and soul put into the art form. This opportunity showed me a different side of dance that I thoroughly enjoyed." — Matthew Saggiomo '22, a dance major from PA Virtual Charter School in Sayre, Pa.
"Opportunities that expand perspective, challenge beliefs, inspire new movement and take one out of their comfort zone are so beneficial to an aspiring artist. These experiences can make one a better educator, a better performer and a better creator. Personally, I hope to make the arts (particularly dance with the incorporation of other mediums) more accessible to children. Dancing Wheels has given me new resources, new vernacular and new tools for myself to share in my career." — Olivia Bone '21, a dance major from Cypress Lake High School Center for the Arts in Fort Myers, Fla.