Oglebay Institute Presents ‘Dancing Wheels’ Class
WHEELING — It was the inspiration of Mr. Fred Rogers and his special television neighborhood that led to a dance class for those in wheelchairs Monday night in Wheeling.
Members of the Dancing Wheels Company of Cleveland provided the instruction during a “dance and movement workshop” class at the Oglebay Institute School of Dance.
It was open to both standing dancers and those in wheelchairs.
Cheryl Pompeo, director of the Oglebay Institute School of Dance, said dancers in wheelchairs first captivated her as a child as she watched an episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.
“They danced with the Joffrey Ballet … I was just a child but I was just in love with them,” she said. “I have always been fascinated and in love with how they can coordinate dancers who are standable with those who are in wheelchairs, and they do the most beautiful choreography.”
A couple of years back she saw an advertisement for the Dancing Wheels Company of Cleveland Ohio, and remembered the troupe. She visited the city, and decided to visit their studio to see if by any chance they toured and could make a visit to the Wheeling area.
She learned they do tour.
The Oglebay Institute School of Dance next received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts that made it possible to bring the Dancing Wheels Company to the Northern Panhandle.
They first came to John Marshall High School last fall for an anti-bigotry presentation titled “Daring to Be Dumbo.”
On Monday, Sara Lawrence-Sucato, director of outreach and community engagement with the Dancing Wheels Company, came to Wheeling for the dance workshop at Oglebay Institute. She brought with her professional sit-down dancer Craig Sams III.
Lawrence-Sucato — who is a standing dancer — has been with the dance company for 15 years. She has served also as a teacher and as a rehearsal director for the last 10 years.
“I started being involved with Dancing Wheels because growing up as a dancer, I wanted to stay with something I was passionate about,” Lawrence-Sucato said. “I was able to make it my career, and I feel a sense of giving back to the community through the work that I do. It makes it very meaningful to me.”
Sams, a sit-down dancer in a wheelchair, was a guest artist for Dancing Wheels for four years before officially joining the company last year.
“I’ve been a performer all my life,” he said. “I am a singer, songwriter and dancer.
“I love being able to express myself in every way possible.”
Sams could be seen stretching out his athletic form prior to the class, reaching to the floor and tipping his wheelchair from side to side, then tilting backward in the chair.
The wheelchairs used by sit-down dancers are made of a lighter aluminum than standard wheelchairs, the dancers explained.
The Oglebay Institute School of Dance regularly offers a DanceAbility class for those with special needs. Many of the participants have autism or have physical disabilities, according to Pompeo.
“Dancers are dancers,” she said. “It doesn’t matter. We are very inclusive. As long as you have the love and desire to dance, you can dance.”