Monday, September 28, 2015

Dancing Wheels: Living without Limitations

When we see someone dance, we have the chance to witness the emotions of the heart translated into the physical motion of the body. Dancing Wheels Company & School in Cleveland, Ohio creates performance pieces and educational opportunities that embrace all those who wish to express themselves in the form of dance, no matter their abilities or perceived "disabilities". Founder and Artistic Director Mary Verdi-Fletcher shares the story of how dance became a part of her life.

"From as far back as I can remember," Mary said, "I always wanted to be a dancer. … I had braces and crutches when I was growing up, and my mother was … a professional dancer prior to my being born. She always instilled the idea of music and movement from the time I could remember anything. I remember that she took me to this shrine, because my family was very religious, too, and we were visiting with the nuns and she said, 'Show them how you know the Mexican Hat Dance.' And they put a hat down and I was doing the dance on my braces and crutches, and they just really loved that. It was kind of the first time I was actually doing a little impromptu performance, so I remember that. I was probably about three years old."

Enjoying Her Dancing Wheels

Mary won several singing competitions in her school-aged years, but didn't have the opportunity to do much dancing, as dancing classes for someone in a wheelchair didn't exist at that time. After high school though, she reconnected with an old friend from her school days in Perry, Ohio and began dancing at local clubs in Cleveland. "I became real popular in the clubs," said Mary, "because I was the only one in a wheelchair dancing." Her friend's then husband became Mary's first dance partner and they decided to enter the Dance Fever dance competition. "I signed up and I didn't tell anybody that I was in a wheelchair because it didn't occur to me," Mary recalled.

"Our first big performance was [the Dance Fever] competition at a dance club in Willoughby," Mary went on, "and there were 2,000 people in the audience because there were all these other competitors. … We entered the dance floor [and there] was an entire hush over the audience; 2,000 people and you could've heard a pin drop because they were awestruck that there was a person in a wheelchair in a dance competition. … And then we broke into dance, and we did 'It's Raining Men' by The Weather Girls. … We just went all out. My girlfriend had made our costumes."

"[My dance partner] was quite athletic and I had an older-style wheelchair. I mean, it was new then, but they looked like the hospital ones now where they're heavy and clunky and all that, and they have big armrests. So, our finale was that he took a flying leap and jumped on my armrests and jumped over my head, and people went crazy over it. We were chosen as alternates to go to California to be on the show, and we got a standing ovation that night and it was covered by the media tremendously. That was the very beginning of Dancing Wheels. We named it Dancing Wheels that night … and from that time, we were picked up by Disney to do a national television show. It was called Up and Coming. … Then we started getting calls from all over the nation to go and perform. We did 72 shows our first year." That was 1980.

Branching Out

In 1990, Dancing Wheels became associated with The Cleveland Ballet. It was also at this time that Mary formed the Dancing Wheels School. "I had access to working in the school of The Cleveland Ballet and learning from their techniques, their training," said Mary. "I was able to develop relationships with choreographers and have a pool of professional ballet dancers to work with."

"The company is versed in … classical styles of dance [like] ballet [as well as] modern [dance]. I personally love story ballets[.] … We have Alice In Wonderland like you've never seen before. We have Pinocchio. We have Babes In Toyland. We have The Snowman. And we have Helen Keller: A Tribute to Her Teacher."

Dance with a Message

"We'll do two things," Mary said. "We'll either have a call to create a piece specifically … [such as when we recently developed] an educational program [based on Newton's Law] that included dance [and] was a mix of science and movement. … Then there are other dances that we've done, for instance Daring to Be Dumbo, which was based on the story of the elephant with the big ears … [in] a modern-day setting. So there was still a Dumbo, but Dumbo was a Junior-High-School student and was a female who had big ears [and] she was teased for how she looked. Once that ballet was created, we decided to take it further and excerpt it and develop an outreach program based on anti-bullying."

"[In] the original story of Dumbo, Dumbo was bullied for being an elephant [whose ears were] with too big[.] … [Then] he found a way to take that disadvantage and make it an advantage so he could fly with his big ears. We're always looking for themes that fit within the curriculum of the schools and that also might relate to social issues."

Embracing Limitless Potential

The Dancing Wheels motto is "The Human Body Has No Limitations," and Mary's worldview is very much in alignment with that statement. "I've always been a person that would take on opportunities that were presented," she said, "or challenges! It's more like, 'Why not?' than 'Why?'. By doing that, I have met Presidents and Popes. … I always say that the disability is society because they've imposed the stairs and the stereotypical views and the perceptions of someone who has a different body. That's society. Me, as a person, I'm a free spirit, so I don't place those limitations on me. They come from the outside in sometimes, but I've learned that I've become a much stronger force having broken through those barriers. … You become stronger with each of those barriers that you've pushed through."


This interview series is sponsored by Eldercare Professionals of Ohio, where we make your well-being our priority. Our interview series goes hand in hand with that effort, and we hope you find it helpful! For more information on how we can help, contacts us at, for questions on how to make your home a home for life, visit us at or call me (Brian Pritchard) at 216-212-7531.

To see a Dancing Wheels performance, participate in their dance school or learn more about their programs, please visit them on the web at or call them at 216-432-0306. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Local Therapist Creates Comprehensive Guide for Seniors

Max Compton, creator of the Senior Comfort Guide got his start through his work as a psychological counseling provider to longterm care facilities. It was there that he began to notice a pervasive issue amongst residents. "The number one issue that comes up in counseling sessions," he said, "is adjustment. The resident [feels] they are in the wrong facility or not getting the right services that they need. The reason for this is that they are admitted to the hospital--through the emergency room, usually--and then when they're discharged, they only have a day or two … and they can't go back home. They're placed at a facility, or they need services they weren't getting prior to admission into the hospital, and they've got to make quick decisions. Sometimes [with] those quick decisions, you don't always choose the right company or the right service; you just choose a service or a facility. … A patient can lose their timing, lose their health, lose their well-being just from not getting [into] the right facility[.] That's what got me thinking, hey, we've got to make a tool that's an easy tool, comprehensive, unbiased, that has everything in it. We started off with a web guide and now we've moved on to the print guide."

Creating Option Awareness

"Senior Comfort Guide is a helpful, complete tool for senior services and senior facilities for the geriatric population of Northeast Ohio," said Compton. "It's a spring-bound guide that lists [everything] from hospitals to senior centers to home healthcare to all the service providers. Then, in the back of the guide, it has a list of all the nursing homes, assisted living and independent living [facilities] throughout [the area]."

The guide is useful not only to elders and their family members and caretakers, but it also has proven to be incredibly helpful for area facilities when it comes to having a quick place to turn to for any senior services they may need to call upon. "A lot of the healthcare providers have been telling me that it's basically their little 'bible' that they keep in their bag or on their desk," Compton shared. "The goal is, we provide it to the providers and the case managers of hospitals and we put it in the right places so that the seniors and their loved ones can find it and pick up a copy so that when it's time for them to make a decision, they have all the information [they need] in their hands."

What they have found, Max said, is that people often have only heard of some of the big-name care facilities and providers when they go to look for options. In such cases, they often feel that these major players are their only choices. However, there are a wide variety of excellent smaller facilities and providers that may suit the individual or the family better. The Senior Comfort Guide, therefore, was created to be a comprehensive listing of the many options available to seniors in Northeast Ohio, with no favor being paid to the larger, better-advertised companies. "The point of making a comprehensive guide," he said," is to show loved ones and family members and aging people that there are options out there, and there are many options out there."


Here at HandyPro, we make your well-being our priority. Our interview series goes hand-in-hand with that effort, and we hope you find it helpful! For more information on how we can help you make your home a home for life, visit us at or call me (Brian Pritchard) at 216-212-7531.

If you would like to learn more about Senior Comfort Guide, you can visit them on the web at or reach them by phone at 216-292-8486.

To listen to the full, unedited audio of our conversation, please Click Here