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³I want you to see me. I want you to see me now. I want you to, see me.´ For several weeks I have been rewinding and playing those words over and over in my head, like songs on my iPod. They run parallel with my thought as I go back into my memory and pull from a different period in my life. Those are the words from the performance I recall most that
penetrated deep into my soul. Just because you can¶t walk doesn¶t mean you can¶t dance. Also known as integrated dance, wheelchair dancing has been around for over 30 years since its conception. Integrated dance companies have been popping up around the world since about 1980. One of the first international dance competition took place in Sweden in 1997. The first World Championships took place in Japan in 1998. One US Company, blazing the trails, known as a pioneer by its peers, and located in Cleveland Ohio, is Dancing Wheels. The Dancing Wheels Company, like others, has used several communication theories to present performance after performance to touch the lives of many, from Agenda Setting and the Narrative Paradigm to the heavily debated concept of you cannot not communicate, just to name a few. In addition to educational outreach programs, lectures and workshops, Dancing Wheels have been changing the lives of others and inspiring people for years. From Ballroom, Latin, Salsa, The Tango and the swing these dances are just some of the ways that people with disabilities in over 40 countries around the world, including the United States, have not only encouraged others to reach beyond their own personal boundaries from becoming influential in changing legislative policies and shaping the future of tomorrow for people with disabilities. People of all different ages and physical abilities participate in dance activities with either manual or power mobility chairs. There are four ways in which to dance: the first is the Combi-dance. This dance joins an able-bodied individual with a disabled dancer
and allows couples to participate in dances such as waltz, tango, as well as Latin American dances. Second is the Dou-dance, features two wheelchair dancers lobbying the stage together. Thirdly, in synchronized formation, as well as free-style the able-bodied and wheelchair dancer perform to music called Group-dance. Finally, the Singles dance is a solo performance by a wheelchair user only. All of these and other dances have noted beneficial to both the mental and physical aspect of the dancers as well as social gratification and possibly involving less physical therapy. Sometimes you wonder what the intended message hidden behind the performance choreographed by another? In the performance, Walking on Clouds, the words are hidden. Who is talking? What person on stage is talking to me when they weep, ³Sometimes I long for the dark? In the dark it doesn¶t matter if one has legs that can walk or skin that is black, or teeth that are yellow or a waist that is too wide.´ As the words keep dripping out, your mind reaches for the next. Then you realize that it¶s the portrayal of another¶s subconscious directly communicating with yours. But what is the message? Are words trying to get you think about someone as an able body? Could it be someone that has been chastised and singled out by the color of their skin or the ³nice´ girl that has always wore husky paints? No matter what the message, as displayed by Katherine Miller in the text book Communication Theories, nor no matter who the intended receiver as described by Watzlawick, Beavin, and Jackson¶s message of ³This behavior is communication because others might derive a variety of meaning from it,´ clearly repeats the phenomena of, ³you cannot not communicate´. Again with the words, ³I want you to see me. I want you to see me now. I want you to, see me´, I think of the first African-American ³black´ person I ever remember seeing. I was in the third grade in a small little ³white´ town in south Alabama. I don¶t recall his name, but he has different, not like us. I
think now, he was saying those words as he tried to join in the kick ball game we were playing. Dirty pants and old tennis shoes were common for most of us, but his were different. Most likely the dirt in our pants was washable and when Christmas came or the new school year arrived we would get a new pair of shoes. I don¶t think that was the case for him. I can see him now, kicking the rocks in small circle he had made with dust rising up from the ground and he silently cries, ³I want you to see me. I want you to see me. Not the color of my skin.´ Described by Walter Fisher, we are ³storytelling animals.´ As we try to make sense of the world, we use the Narrative Theory to encounter and behave within our own social world. Midway in the performance, Mary Verdi-Fletcher, a woman born with spinal bifida and inspired with her grandmother¶s intent to refuse her dream of becoming a professional dancer and starting her own dance studio for over 30 years, tells the story of how she and others in wheelchairs went to the city bus stop and wheeled out in-front of the bus demanding that the city leaders and the transportation authority take notice that the public transportation was not suitable for people in wheelchairs. Staying put in-front of the bus until the authorities arrived, she helped turn the page in how public transportation accommodated all types of society. After hearing her story and using guidelines of narrative coherence and narrative fidelity, on top of the additional articles written about her character, her story passed the test of having structural consistence and she was able to provide another detail for it to ring true to satisfy the listener. Finally some may ask, so what? What is the major goal that is trying to be accomplished and what form will it take to carry out its mission? This one viewing of the Dancing Wheels Company has congregated all three different scopes of agenda setting. When Frank and Jennifer took the floor, the expression on their faces were of two people in love and each caring for the other. And they accept each other as full and compete and without limitations. They have found
happiness with as lovers and with their own bodies. This is an example of public agenda. Because public agenda is the set of topics that members of the public believe to be important. And the love they have found seems to be all that mattered at the moment. When Mary tells her story of improvements of the public transportation in Cleveland and how she has become an expert on the American¶s with Disability Act (ADA) influencing decision makers, it is clear how she has crossed over to represents issues in the policy agenda. She has been able to transfer the agenda to the decision makers and bring forth public transportation to the city of Cleveland. The media agenda aspect plays a large role in the life of Mary and the Dancing Wheels Company. She has been named as an alternate for the 1980 TV show Dance Fever, as show cased in ³The Cleveland Woman¶s Journal´, involved with television networks such as ABC, PBS, and has an impressive resume that has taken advantage of the publicity that the media can provide. In closing, after watching the live performance and watching most every video on the Dancing Wheel¶s website, and executing other research related to the group, it is clear how one could argue that the Dancing Wheels Company has used many different communication theories to display their history and project their current message to audiences across the globe.
References: 1: Mobility-Advisor http://www.mobility-advisor.com/wheelchair-dancing.html
2. The Cleveland Woman s Journal http://www.clevelandwomen.com 3. G.G. Gregg Entertainment http://www.gggreg.com 4. Dancing Wheels Company and School http://www.dancingwheels.org
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