Dancer photo: Courtesy of the Dancing Wheels Company.

Mantua – Last week, the entire Crestwood Primary School — all 400+ students and staff — had the chance to witness a special holiday performance. Thanks to generous grants, CPS staff and students boarded nine buses and ventured to the Breen Center for the Performing Arts in Ohio City. But the wheels on their buses weren’t the only ones spinning round and round on this half-day field trip. The Dancing Wheels Integrated Dance Company provided some wheels of their own.

In terms of dance, the “Babes in Toyland” show entails everything from traditional ballet to modern dance, with some acrobatics added in for good measure. In addition, it features an ensemble of what the group refers to as “stand up dancers and those who sit down.” For those used to a typical ballet, this may seem confusing. But to Monica Grebb’s class of second graders, they just rolled with it. Prior to the trip, CPS teacher (and part of the team responsible for bringing the opportunity to her school), Grebb, reminded her class, “ Some of the dancers are in wheelchairs, and some are not in wheelchairs.” But as the performance ended, the children didn’t seem to notice the difference, calling it, “fantastic” and “awesome.” 

Educator Eileen Kelly, another part of the team responsible for the school trip, added, “We’ve seen a student ballet here at school and at a theater before, but the children have never seen a professional production. The bonus with this particular performance is that it showed them that people of every ability can participate and add value.” Chase, a kindergartener shared, “I liked when the nutcracker got the bad guy,” while second grader  Reagan added, “I liked when little Bo Peep found her sheep.” Hannah, also in grade two, added, “It was a fun bus ride. We got to see all the sights and a different world than we see at home.”

CPS Principal Cindy Ducca concurred, adding, “It’s important for our children to experience life outside of school, within their global community. It’s a nice opportunity for them to get dressed up and enjoy something wonderful with their peers.” In fact, one kindergarten teacher shared that a parent told her that her son was so excited for the trip, he spent 30 minutes picking out his shirt and tie the night before. 

Principal Ducca continued, “The kids were so excited to go, and so respectful at the performance. They asked great questions at the end, too. But the main reason we wanted them to experience this particular performance was to show them that no matter what they may have against them, the sky is the limit to what they can accomplish.”

And it appears that CPS students heard that message loud and clear. The children were so amazed by the physical feats of the professional dancer troupe, one student marveled, “At the end, while we were clapping, I expected the dancers to get up out of their wheelchairs to take a bow.” 

The school’s field trip to see the performance was made possible by grants from the Hiram Community Trust, the CPS PTO, The CPS Principals Account, and an anonymous donation on behalf of Dancing Wheels.

Director and performer Mary Verdi-Fletcher founded the Dancing Wheels Company group over thirty years ago. Today, the group is recognized as America’s first physically integrated dance company. This local treasure has performed throughout Northeast Ohio and across the nation, and has been featured on CNN and ‘Good Morning America’ as well. For more information, visit dancingwheels.org.