A workshop that touches millions brought an inspirational mission to West Virginia’s northern panhandle. Those who might have thought they could never dance learned how they could.
“Dancing Wheels Company” from Cleveland says it is America’s first integrated dance company, bringing both disabled and non-disabled dancers together in classrooms and studios. Throughout the company’s workshop at the Stifel Fine Arts Center in Wheeling, the local class learned the art of dance brings freedom, and demonstrates the indomitable human spirit.
Meredith Aleigha Wells, the teacher, says she first began to love the art of dance as a child. Losing her mobility has not had any effects on her love of dance. “I still want to be that storyteller, and I didn’t want my disability to get in the way of that. And I refuse to let it get in the way of that,” Wells said. “So, finding companies and programs that are really all about letting people like me do what everyone who’s standing up does — I think that’s really important.”
Her students included some like Kelsi Weaver from Martins Ferry, who suffers from cerebral palsy, and served as an Easter Seals Ambassador in 2015. But Wells would rather see the mobility impaired work on the stage – to the greatest extent possible – with the same form.
“I was told, ‘Okay, just do whatever works for you, and, you know, just kind of translate on the go,’” Wells says of the frustration with conventional dance classes after the illness that put her into a wheelchair. “I was craving, like a structure. I was craving someone to give me the kind of technique that you would give someone standing up.” Wells continued, “You wouldn’t tell a stand-up dancer to, ‘Just do whatever feels comfortable.’ You would tell them, ‘Our strict ballet technique that is in place.’ This is the translated version of that ballet technique.”
Meredith wants to stay in musical theater as a long-term goal. She plans to continually improve her skills by teaching them to those less fortunate.