“If you can’t walk, dance,” is a mantra of Dancing Wheels Company founder Mary Verdi-Fletcher and what initially led her to change the face of dance with the creation of the first physically integrated dance company.
Born with spina bifida, Fletcher never assumed she wouldn’t be able to dance despite being unable to walk without assistance from crutches or braces.
In fact, the young woman was determined to follow in the footsteps of her mother, Nancy Verdi, who was a professional dancer during the days of vaudeville.
For Fletcher, music and dance were a way of life and filled her childhood home. While her mother possessed the swift feet of a dancer, her father, Sylvio Verdi, was a musician who would often play impromptu concerts in their home.
Inspired by the music, Fletcher was determined to move her feet and body to the beat and continued dancing in her braces and crutches despite breaking her leg.
After three such incidents, Fletcher said she decided to stay in a wheelchair but was determined to not let the wheels and seated position confine her.
Fletcher found an opportunity to experiment with dancing with a standing partner as the 1970s ushered in the era of disco. Thanks to the up-beat and groovy music, the spotlight burned bright once again on dance and dancing competitions.
Encouraged by her friends, Fletcher and her partner took their innovative dance moves from the dance floor to competitions.
When the judges saw Fletcher’s performance, seated in her wheelchair but nevertheless stunning, they were enthralled.
It was there Fletcher decided to form an unique dance school where she could teach other dancers — with and without disabilities — how to work together to create jaw-dropping performances.
Now 37 years later, Fletcher’s vision is a reality.
Dancing Wheels Company operates a large dancing school in Cleveland, Ohio, and its dancers tour the world promoting a message of inclusion and spreading awareness about people with disabilities.
Along with touring shows, the company has outreach programs, lecture performances and residencies. The troupe performs about 75 to 80 times a year.
This year will mark the third year the dance company has partnered with the Madison County Public Library to perform for the community.
On July 18, three dancers from Dancing Wheels Company will perform at…