Professor teaches to dance past disabilities

Whitney Chaffin

Company includes wheelchair dancing

Dancing with the stars takes on a new meaning for people of all ages, abilities and disabilities for a local dance company.

Assistant professor of dance Barbara Allegra Verlezza and her husband, Sabatino Verlezza, started a dance company, Verlezza Dance, in order to make it known that anyone can dance, regardless of perceived disabilities. Their company originated in New York City, but came to Cleveland in 2003, after being inspired by the “May O’Donnell” technique of sit-down dancing.

Verlezza said she and her husband decided to integrate the technique of stand-up and sit-down dancing after being blown away after seeing a wheelchair performance on stage in New York City.

“It changed our perception of our art forms and literally blew us away,” Verlezza said. “It was gratifying.”

According to the book entitled “May O’Donnell: Modern Dance Pioneer,” this technique is for those with paralysis or injury, and reaches out to people of all ages with various disabilities. In wheelchairs, dancers use spirals and other movements that have proven to increase the range of motion and balance in an individual.

“The people I work with are the inspiration,” Verlezza said. “Things like dance get devalued and to see what we give to them and what they give to us reminds us that there is great value. I’m deeply grateful for my students here. “

The Verlezzas said they work to stretch the limitations of performing in order to give everyone a chance to experience dance. They hold annual movement classes at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital for Rehabilitation, as well as with the Euclid Adult Training Center for seniors with developmental, physical and sensory disabilities through the Cuyahoga County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.

Verlezza said her company also offers summer workshops that tend to be catered more toward children with autism and emotional and behavioral issues. Adults of all ages, with and without disabilities are also welcome to attend the workshops.

Verlezza Dance has reached out to people of all ages and abilities, and has continued to maintain that convergence policy. On Sept. 30, the Roe Green Theatre at Kent State will feature a free concert sponsored by the Student Accessibility Services, the School of Theatre and Dance, and the Center for Student Involvement, in order to recognize and celebrate DisAbility Awareness Month for October.

Contact features correspondent Whitney Chaffin at [email protected].