Mary Verdi-Fletcher became the first professional wheelchair dancer in the United States in 1980. She opened her own company, Dancing on Wheels Company and School, in Cleveland, Ohio and is now celebrating her 30th anniversary season. She was born with Spina Bifida which is a birth defect in which the backbone and spinal canal do not close before birth. She wanted to combine her experiences and passion for dance to revolutionize how people perceived dance and dancers.
Dancing on Wheels Company and School is a professional studio with physically integrated techniques for dancers born with and without disabilities. Company members include 15 dancers who have danced with collegiate groups, Cirque de Soleil, the Cleveland Cavaliers and various other dance companies throughout the United States. The company has reached over 4.5 million people through workshops, classes, performances, school assemblies and other events.
The company offers weekly in-studio classes and community outreach programs enhanced with movement and performance for a unique approach to therapy. This experience is open to everyone including people who previously were excluded from the arts due to physical, sensory or developmental disabilities. Dancing on Wheels offers classes in ballet, modern dance, hip hop, creative movement and pre-pointe. Each genre focuses on a improving a specific skill. The Company also offers summer dance and theatre workshops for all ages and abilities.
Past performances include Alice and Wonderland, The Snowman, Walking on Clouds and others. Performances range from 10 minutes to 90 minutes depending on the occasion and difficulty level.
On May 7, 2011, Dancing on Wheels performed at the DisAbilities Expo in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Mary was the keynote speaker and the group performed afterward. Dancing on Wheels will perform on May 26 in Saint Louis at the Spring to Dance Festival at Touhill Performing Arts Center.