Written and photography by Glen Miller
Katherine Simmons, an 18-year-old Medina High School senior, has arthrogryposis — stiffness or constriction in her muscles, joints, tendons or ligaments that restricts normal movement. The teen, who uses a wheelchair, is a student at the Dancing Wheels Company and School, a non-profit organization dedicated to integrating the talents of dancers with and without special needs.
“I always wished I could dance like other kids, but I didn’t think I could until Dancing Wheels taught me that I can do everything a stand-up dancer can do but with my arms,” she says. “I learned that I can do more than I think I can. It has also helped me to make some new friends.”
“This (dancing) has given her a way to communicate with people, something she needs and wants,” says Pamela Simmons, her mother. “It was so touching to see Katherine break beyond the confines of her wheelchair to beautifully, fluidly express herself as she had never been able to before. Once in class, Katherine was hooked.”
The program, located in Cleveland’s Masonic Performance Arts Center, offers an array of weekly classes and workshops for adults and children, ages 2 and older, with and without disabilities.
Dancing Wheels President and Founding Artistic Director Mary Verdi-Fletcher, who was born with spina bifida, played a key role in helping to create the program.
She wants for people with special needs to have the opportunity to pursue their goals on an equal ground with peers. Verdi-Fletcher’s determination to dance ultimately led her to create the dance company in 1980 and the school 10 years later.
“In the last five years, I’d say we have taught anywhere from 1,000 to 6,000 kids a year through our outreach program,” says Emma Parker, dance instructor and school administrator. “We go into school systems and teach anywhere from 100-500 kids in assembly programs.”
Along with professionally trained dancers, each year the company performs nationally and internationally....
The Heart of Rock and Roll is an event for Special Needs teenagers and adults, ages 16 and older. The event will include a full-scale prom and will be hosted on August 15 at Garfield Church in Pepper Pike from 6 to 9 p.m. This is a community event to provide guests and their families with a night that they will never forget.
The Heart of Rock and Roll will honor these guests with a night of music, dancing, games and fun. Guests in formal attire will arrive on the red carpet and will be escorted by volunteers who will share in the experience.
Both Honored Guests and Volunteers can register online at RockAndRollProm.com.
In Ohio there are more than 1.6 million children and adults with disabilities, so the need is great to recognize and celebrate these individuals. To make this night even more special we have teamed up with our partners to make this a free event, including Best Buy, Chic-Fil-A, Cleveland Clinic, Client Strategy Group, Firefly’s Minigolf, Key Ministry, Master Pizza, Paul Mitchell School, Vincent Lighting Systems, Skylight Financial Group, Welcome House, WFHM 95.5 The Fish and others.
This event is being presented by All Communities Together (A.C.T.), Hope United Methodist Church in Bedford and Garfield Church.
The Heart of Rock and Roll is also a proud partner of the event Special Needs, Special Families on July 11 – being presented by WFHM 95.5 The Fish and features Ms. Wheelchair USA, Ashlee Lundvall, and Singer/Songwriter Ginny Owens. The event will be hosted at Grace Baptist Church in Brunswick and more information can be found here....