“If dance is an expression of the human spirit, then it is best expressed by people of all abilities.”
This is the core belief behind the Dancing Wheels Company & School, a physically integrated dance company that facilitated a workshop utilizing individuals of all abilities to dance, for elementary education and adapted physical activity students Thursday, Nov. 13, in the West Gym dance studio.
Co-sponsored by the President’s Commission on Disability Issues and the Departments of Dance and Physical Education: Adapted Physical Activity, the workshop was meant to provide students with a method and practice of teaching that can be applied to several fields, Dr. Ursula Payne, chairperson and professor of dance, said.
“Sometimes we forget how creative movement and dance are not just solely for entertainment,” Payne said. They are also about wellness, therapeutic tools and building relationships between communities and departments, she said.
As a part of the dance and adapted physical activity dual degree program, dance majors may select from a variety of dance and adapted physical activity courses to receive a bachelor of arts in dance and transition into SRU’s adapted physical activity master’s program.
“My whole entire dream is to open up a dance studio for individuals with disabilities,” Caitlin Brosnahan, a dance major and current adapted physical activity graduate student, said.
“The dual degree program benefits me because I actually get to implement my dance programs and experience what it’s like rather than just learning about it,” she said.
Brosnahan believed the workshop would be interesting but also challenging because some of the company performers are in wheelchairs while many SRU dance students are able-bodied, she said.
“To learn their style, I think it would be beneficial to actually learn in a wheelchair,” Brosnahan said.
As both an instructor and a performer, Payne agreed that most individuals have to modify movements around their own bodies and any injuries, she said.
“We at Slippery Rock University, in terms of dance students we bring in, don’t have a specific ‘type’ of student,” Payne said. “We are really interested in individuals and how our program can help them reach their goals,” she said.
Brosnahan had the opportunity to interview Mary Verdi-Fletcher, the founder of the Dancing Wheels Company and a dancer in Thursday’s performance, about her philosophy on dance for a graduate leadership class project.
“I believe motivation comes from passion…passion to serve, passion to succeed and the drive to achieve,” Verdi-Fletcher told Brosnahan.
“If this is not part of the person’s make-up, they will not survive in our environment. I watch each and every individual and try to help them reach their potential, but will not stand for apathy or indifference,” Verdi-Fletcher said.
Payne regards Verdi-Fletcher as a pioneer in the field of dance, she said.
“I also think hosting the Dancing Wheels Company highlights the ways in which our program is innovative and interdisciplinary,” she said.
Payne hoped students left the workshop encouraged to develop a range of other skills to use in their careers and to become involved in inclusive communities.
The Dancing Wheels Company & School is a physically integrated dance company dedicated to inclusive arts and recreation opportunities for all. Founded by the first professional wheelchair dancer in the U.S., Mary Verdi-Fletcher, the Dancing Wheels Company & School combines the talents of dancers with and without disabilities to create a unifying expression of movement for all.