Category: Diversity

Dancing Wheels: Breaking Boundaries

By Mary Verdi-Fletcher, Dancer-Client & Caroline H. Newhouse recipient

As America’s first professional wheelchair dancer, I have spent nearly all of my adult life dancing, teaching, and promoting the concepts of physically integrated dance: the partnering of stand up and sit down (wheelchair) dancers.  For 32 years I have traveled the globe with my Company, Dancing Wheels, reaching over 5 million people with and without disabilities, and although I still dance and direct my Company, I have long looked for ways to continue my work into my retirement years.

Several years ago, I proposed the idea of a manual and DVD to my associate and artistic advisor, Mark Tomasic. Mark took on the daunting task of writing this manual as part of his master’s thesis at the University of California, Irvine.  Together we mapped out the process of gathering research and data based on the physical benefits of dance for wheelchair users, the Dancing Wheels methods of training, and the outcomes of choreography as they relate to this art form.  We then approached several organizations to help us make this document available to the public. Career Transition for Dancers came forward with support for the publishing and replication of these important educational tools.  As a result of their support, the manual and DVD was unveiled on October 26th at a major event in Cleveland celebrating Disability Awareneness Month, and is available online at The manual which is entitled Physically Integrated Dance Training: The Dancing Wheels compressive guide for teachers, choreographers, and students of mixed abilities, will open the doors of opportunities for university dance departments, rehabilitation centers and individual artists as a vehicle by which to teach this new dance form.  It will broaden the scope of dance and allow for employment opportunities for choreographers, dance teachers, and dancers.  And for me, it will allow me to pass on my lineage and to relay the message of integrated dance world-wide!

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A Transition Success Story

By Maryam Day, Dancer-Client

Most people who dance know the first time they were inspired to dance.  It’s the moment that changes their lives forever.  That moment for me was in the spring of 1979 at a New York City performance of the Joffrey Ballet.  I was four years old, and I was moved to want to do everything I saw on stage that day.  I danced in the aisles of the theater as if I were in Swan Lake.   I was in awe of the lines, the shapes, and the movement accompanied by music I had never heard before; all of it changed me at that moment, and I knew at that moment that I wanted to become a dancer.

My formal training began at the Dance Theatre of Harlem and for years I lived,Maryam Day breathed, and dreamed of one day becoming a prima ballerina.  But when I found the Graham technique I found freedom.  The Modern dance vocabulary fit my body, made empirical sense to me, and truly made me recognize the artistry in myself.  I was home.

The euphoria of dance can also bring about the pain of reality – literally.  The first year of my undergraduate study at Temple University was an exciting time for me.  We danced with our minds, bodies, and voices in unison, and weeks of rehearsals led to one memorable night on stage.  Unfortunately, I did not pay enough attention to the part in the curriculum about warming up your body to avoid tearing a hamstring while onstage.  The CRUNCH sound coming from my leg was louder than the live rock music that was scored for our section.  I limped off the stage, laid on the floor between the dance shoes and leg warmers, and cried.  For two months I could not walk; and that’s the moment I realized I can’t dance forever.  I knew I would heal and that I would get my leg moving again, but at some point I would also take my last bow as a professional dancer.  And that’s when the fear set in.

Maryam DayAfter years of performing all around the world, I knew the moment had come for me to do something different.  New budding passions of mine were acting, writing my own work, and producing.  In 2005 I formed my first company, Epiphany 3 Films, and CTFD was right there to support my dreams.  As a transitioning dancer I knew I needed help and support to give me the courage and the tenacity to succeed.  CTFD set me on a course with not only the courage, but also a “How To” life map of what to do with my business.  They helped me formulate a business plan, mission statement, operating budgets, and long-term goals.  The awarded seed money and counseling were priceless – truly gifts that kept on giving.

Since reaching my stride I have had the fortune to return the favor.  In 2011, Social Savv(v)y Media opened for business: my boutique social media agency designed to help artists, non-profits, and filmmakers leverage their businesses and brands in the interactive space.  CTFD was one of my first clients!  Social Savv(v)y Media and CTFD worked together over 9 months to bridge the social media gap between programs, content, and CTFD’s audience.

I am proud to say I am a Career Transition for Dancer Success Story!

Q and A with Vinson German

A conversation with Vinson German, CTFD dancer-client and Caroline H. Newhouse Scholarship recipient

By Dana Lutt

Career Transition For Dancers: What is your performance background?

Vinson German: I began my training as a scholarship student at the Dance Theater of Harlem and Alvin Ailey schools prior to receiving my Equity card for a dinner theater production of West Side Story. I immediately was hooked on musical theater and continued on that path, performing regionally in productions such as A Chorus Line, Dream Girls, Ragtime and the national tour of Carousel, directed by Nicholas Hytner. Somewhere in the interim, I completed a two-year acting program at the National Shakespeare Conservatory and sang opera at Lincoln Center.

CTFD: What was your transition process like? What are you up to now?

VG: I always felt like I wanted more control over what I did as a dancer and I did not see myself making an entire career based on hoping someone would hire me to work on their project. Also, when my performance engagement was done, it was always back to square one; competing for a job that usually offered an all too brief contract that paid the same or less than the job I had just finished. I didn’t walk away from it because I stopped loving it. I just did not want my career to be made up of a series of lateral moves. That is when I turned to Career Transition For Dancers for guidance and spoke with Lauren Gordon about what I thought I would do next. She introduced me to a vast network of current and former dancers who wanted something similar to what I wanted: career empowerment.

Thanks to the valuable administrative skills that I had picked up at the Actors Fund Work Program, I took a job working in development for a non-profit, thinking that I was done with the arts. However, what wasn’t working for me was my attempt to silence my artistic voice and put it somewhere in the back of my mind, where it only called for more attention! I realized that I am, always was and always will be an artist. However, if I was going to remain one, I needed to feel more empowered and have as much control as possible. I had been talking about creating a theatre company for many years. This year I started building the foundation for Bridges Burned Theatre and I am about to apply for fiscal sponsorship (which I learned about by coming to a Career Transitions seminar!).

CTFD: What did you learn from the transition process and what information can you pass on to other dancers facing transition?

VG: At times, the lack of physical movement that suddenly was missing from my day was driving me crazy! However, the skill of how to put on a show easily transitioned with me to my current job and, on some level, I am learning what I need to know to move forward with my theatre company. Insofar as working in development, the discipline of showing up every day, taking direction and working independently are skills that we can take with us, wherever we go!

Issues of Race and Access, Dancing Around the Elephant in the Room

2006 CTFD Gala

I am young by many comparisons in the arts field (I’ve only done this for a bit over 15 years).  Yet, it surprises me that access still remains an issue for artists of color and therefore access to support services is also a challenge.  I have heard many institutions talk about the hiring practices of producers, directors, choreographers.  But the truth is, the field is full of dancers (or other artists) of color.

If I were to judge the dance world demographics by our roster of dancer-clients, I would think the dance world is filled with 90% women, 72. 88% Caucasian, 11.14% Black/African-American, 8.27% Latino/Hispanic, 4.6% Asian and 2.53% unidentified; thank goodness we know this is not the case!  With companies like Dance Theater of Harlem, Forces of Nature, Annapurna Indian Dance Company, Ballet Hispanico, Giwayen Mata, Sachiyo Ito and Company spanning or Complexions Contemporary Ballet performing great works; it is apparent the dance world is rich with dancers of every favor and stripe.

AJahi Nicole Adams

Being a former dancer of color and now a development professional, I realize it is not really an issue of casting (although that is true in some cases) it is an issue of cultural competency, authentic outreach and marketing.  The challenge now becomes knowledge and involvement.  This is not just a test or question for our organization but one for our union friends, artists’ service providers and other organizations in multicultural settings.  The advantage some institutions have is the resources to focus – be it time or human resources – on cultivating programs that truly address every member of their community.

To address this concern here at Career Transition For Dancers we consider ethnicity, technical training, trends and accessibility during our decision-making when creating programs. We are also reaching out to you, our members, to get involved.  Write a blog post that speaks of your experience and to the dance community you are most intimate with.  Volunteer as an ambassador in your city or town. Challenge us to create programs that address your needs (you can complete our annual program survey here) .  Volunteer to host a Career Conversation, host a party in support of CTFD, or visit one of our offices.  If you are interested in participating in any of the ideas above contact me here. Your involvement will not only address issues of diversity and accessibility but will help us create the programs dancers really need today.

Will all these things get us over the proverbial goal line? I am not sure.  But I know we will be very close.

Just my thoughts.  Let me know your thoughts, ideas and/or suggestions here or tweet with me with #Diversity @CTFD_AJNicole.

-AJahi Nicole Adams