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Mary Verdi-Fletcher
Creative. Courageous. Visionary.

Although Mary Verdi-Fletcher was born with spina bifida and became a wheel-chair user at a young age, she stubbornly refused to abandon her dream of becoming a professional dancer. Through persistence and courage, she achieved that dream and more to become one of the most revered dance visionaries in the United States.

Mary's mother was a dancer and her father was a musician. Mary believes that she was born to dance - that art is an avocation that picks you.

By the age of three, Mary was using braces and crutches. Her mother created special dance movements with her. Mary was always moving to music and breaking crutches and wheelchairs along the way. She never allowed anyone to put limitations on what she could do.

During the disco period of the 1980's, Mary started going to clubs and began putting moves together with her partner. They won a dance competition as alternates for the popular TV show Dance Fever. Thus, Dancing Wheels was named and developed.

Mary's mother and her grand-mother were her mentors and her inspiration, providing her with gifts of dignity and self-worth. The doctors told her mother that Mary should be institutionalized and that she would die by the age of four. Mary's mother didn't believe this-she believed in Mary and her ability to survive.

Dignity, Self-worth and Believing
That You Can Do Anything

Mary believes that we must all be in tune with our inner voice-we guide ourselves. We often don't listen to what this inner voice tells us, but we needto rely on it. If it feels right, it probably is right.

Mary's grandmother came to this country from Italy and Mary inherited her instincts. With no place to learn how to dance, Mary had the chutzpah and resilience to create her own dancing and pioneered the first integrated dance company. Her spirit and courage, combined with the business and public relations skills she learned in college, helped Mary create Dancing Wheels as the prototype for a new integrated dance form in which both professional standup and wheelchair dancers perform together.

Mary has also helped others achieve their dreams. She helped head up the first personal care assistance and development program for the first independent living center in Ohio. Her commitment to others motivated her to spear-head major state and national advocacy campaigns to further the independence of persons with disabilities. She remembers well the days in Cleveland when she couldn't ride a bus because it didn't provide access for wheelchairs.

Believe in "I Can"
Just as the wheelchair disappears when Mary is dancing, so it disappears when talking with her. She still loves what she does every day. Society places limitations and constraints on people, but Mary ignored society and found alternative ways of doing things.

She graduated from college, is married, started a business, and works every day. Neither spina bifida, a kidney transplant 11 years ago, nor skin cancer stops Mary - they barely slow her down.

She is an inspiration to all people because she believes in what she is doing. If you don't believe, you can't do it.

The biggest disability is the phrase "I can't."

Dancing Wheels celebrates its 25-year milestone with America's first ever touring integrated dance festival. The kick-of is May 13 at the Allen Theater at Cleveland's Playhouse Square.

The theater is the first site of the tour that will bring together the top three integrated dance companies in the nation.

Full Radius from Atlanta and AXIS Dance Company from Oakland, California will unite with Dancing Wheels to present performances.

In addition to its concert performances, Dancing Wheels provides dance classes for people of all abilities, as well as educational outreach programs, lecture/performances and intensive workshops.

For more information about Dancing Wheels as well as its national touring schedule, visit www.dancingwheels.org.

Dancing Wheels is a 501 (c)3 organization located at 3615 Euclid Avenue, Third Floor, Cleveland, OH 441 15-2 52 7; telephone 216.432.0306.

Reprinted with permission of The Cleveland Women's Journal

Cleveland Women's Journal

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