Woman Builds Wheelchair Dance Company Around Her Disability
Nov 29, 2012
We are inspired every day by the people we meet who overcome their disabilities and accomplish their dreams. Meet Mary Verdi-Fletcher, a woman from Ohio who was born with spina bifida but didn’t let that stop her from becoming an accomplished dancer and entrepreneur.
Spina bifida is a birth defect in which the backbone and spinal canal do not close properly before birth. Children born with spina bifida have severely limited mobility and rely on wheelchairs to get around.
“My family always wanted me to have a ‘normal’ life,” Mary says, “and going to a school that was mainstream was on the top of their list.”
“My mother was a professional dancer and my father was a musician,” Mary recalls. “So Mom would turn on a record and get my brother and me together in the family room, and she would create a dance. She instilled the love of dance within me.”
Mary became swept up by the disco movement, like most other young women her age. In a gutsy move, she chose to enter a “Stayin’ Alive!” dance competition. With a trained gymnast for a partner, a hush rolled over the crowd when Mary rolled onto the dance floor. The pair gave it their all and ended with a bold move that had her partner somersaulting over her chair in place of the famous lift. The crowd loved every minute of the performance.
Mary found dancing to be her passion throughout life, and as time went on, dancing was one of the only times she was pain-free. Over time, her kidneys began to have problems, and she lost both of them as a result of her condition. She soon was dealing with the pain of dialysis, and she would feel very ill as soon as she was offstage.
Her husband could not bare to see her in such pain and secretly went to her doctor to see if he might be a match for donating his own kidney. As luck would have it, he was a good match.
“This was the thing I wanted to do,” he said. “I love Mary, and it really pained me to see what she had to go through.”
Mary is now the founder and director of The Dancing Wheels Company & School in Cleveland, OH. Her studio is a state-of-the-art school known for being a world-class training facility for dancers, choreographers and educators—both with and without disabilities.
Mary teaches and dances, both from her wheelchair, showing that with dedication you can not only live your dream, but also make a living from your dream.