Integrated Dance Is Both Relevant and Beautiful

Third Annual Forward Motion Physically Integrated Dance Festival and Conference Returns

Karen Peterson Dancers in


Karen Peterson Dancers in "Lost and Found." From left, Penelope Huerta and Jesus Vidal de Leon (Photographer Giorgio Vera).

Cameron Basden

The third annual Forward Motion Physically Integrated Dance Festival returns to South Florida after a year’s absence. The Festival initiates the restart of South Florida’s dance season by showcasing powerful companies and dancers with and without disabilities in a series of discussions, workshops and performances.

Beginning on Wednesday, Sept. 22 and through Saturday, Sept. 25, the conference aims to highlight the talents of the artists and to invites audiences to enjoy the beauty, warmth and artistry of integrated dance.

Hosted by Miami’s Karen Peterson, director and founder of Karen Peterson and Dancers (KPD), the conference provides the artistic experience of performances while delving into current discussions of inclusion, diversity and equity in open dialogues held throughout the long weekend.

(Scroll to bottom of story to win tickets to Saturday performance!)

Inclusive dance has slowly been growing in popularity and acceptance. And with so many conversations about inclusiveness over this past year, it could help elevate the art form.

“I definitely feel (that) over the last year and a half there has been more open discussion,” Peterson says. “There is a real push to train the next generation of dancers with disabilities."

She poses questions:  "How do we train them, how do we educate them, how do we give them opportunities, are there enough opportunities, is there enough money?”

After some thought, she continues, “Why can’t we give dancers who have a disability and want to dance, want to perform, want to create, why can’t we give them more opportunities?”

These are some of the topics that will be discussed during this week's conference.

Dancing Wheels Company performing


Dancing Wheels Company performing "Odyssey." From left, dancers Meredith Aleigha-Wells, Celina Speck, and Matthew Robinson (Photographer Al Fuchs).

The Festival is a large and encompassing endeavor, including Dancing Wheels Company from Cleveland, Ohio, Tampa’s REVolutions Dance, and Marc Brew, artistic director of Axis Dance Company from Oakland, California. While venues are opening up and performances are occurring, challenges still remain behind the scenes in travel, rehearsals and the venues themselves that require constant change, adaptability and flexibility.

Peterson detailed all the aforementioned moving parts and said to pull off such a festival it's a plus to be “a really good organizer."

With on-going challenges notwithstanding, to be performing live, to be in community with other artists and to have an audience is an irreplaceable and emotional happening that every artist is welcoming and is thankful for, she says.

“The dancers are so excited. They have been rehearsing on their own when I’m unavailable. They are also thrilled to be working with Dinorah (de Jesus Rodriguez) who is creating a video backdrop for our piece, 'Lost and Found,' based on footage from two prior (KPD) performances done in gardens,“ Peterson says. “We’ll be looking at the past of the dance combined with the present live staging.”

She feels that because of the lengthy time of the coronavirus, the work has deepened and relationships have become even stronger.

“They have found new places to go with each other,” Peterson says.

Jesus Vidal de Leon (photographer Dinorah de Jesus Rodriguez).


Jesus Vidal de Leon (photographer Dinorah de Jesus Rodriguez).

While quarantine has had many difficulties, there have been silver linings. The ability to work with a guest choreographer through Zoom allowed Miami-based KPD wheelchair dancer, Jesus Vidal de Leon, to learn a solo that was choreographed by Brew.

The Axis Artistic Director, who initially created the solo, “Remember When” for himself, is setting it, for the first time, on another disabled dancer.

The solo, he says, looks at communication and the past.

“Coming to crossroads, do I go forward or go back and making those choices,” Brew says. “For Jesus, it is helping him to find his connection to his own story within the movement. Our stories are different but we’ve been able to connect because we both had accidents and were non-disabled and then acquired disability. He is able to find his journey through the piece.”

He says: “It will be weird, but good and exciting to see my work transcend to somebody else."

Brew has been commissioned worldwide to create works on both physically integrated and non-integrated dance companies, classical ballet and contemporary companies.

While his company, Axis Dance itself, is not performing, Brew’s presence in the Festival is extensive. He is a keynote speaker, a panel discussion participant, he will be giving a workshop and Dancing Wheels Company will be performing a piece that he choreographed.

Dancing Wheels has been in existence for 40 years and has eleven dancers in the company. In the Festival, they are performing Brew’s passionate "Odyssey," which was recently performed in New York’s Battery Dance Festival, as well as Catherine Meredith’s “Pallas Athena” with music by David Bowie that speaks to unified people. The pieces are both stylistically very different and show the extreme range of the dancers.

REVolutions Dance in


REVolutions Dance in "Perly, Smirky, Quirky." (Photograph courtesy of the company.)

Dancing Wheels President and Founding Artistic Director Mary Verdi-Fletcher has seen much evolution in integrated dance over the years.

“I see an emergence of those artists with disabilities desiring to be choreographers, to be teachers, to go beyond being a dancer,” says Verdi-Fletcher. “Finding ways to immerse themselves in the art. We’re really on a journey to find and explore ways that academia can be more involved in teaching interested participants with disabilities in dance programs on an equal basis.”

Artistic Director of REVolutions Dance, Dwayne Scheunemann, has been involved with KPD for many years. He started REVolutions Dance Company in 2005 because he wanted to dance more than local opportunities could provide.

“I didn’t know anything about running a dance company, “ Scheunemann says. “But I knew there was a need for a physically integrated dance company in Tampa, and I had an opportunity. So, I did it.”

He credits performance support and advice from Peterson as a major component to his company’s success.

Asked what it is about dance that draws him in, Scheunemann quickly said, "In sports, I was competing with people and in dance, I’m connecting with people. Once I discovered dance, it affected everything I do, empowering people to find their place in the world, that all started with dance.”

Marc Brew, artistic director of Axis Dance Company. (Photographer Maurice Ramirez).


Marc Brew, artistic director of Axis Dance Company. (Photographer Maurice Ramirez).

Scheunemann’s four dancers will be performing what he describes as a quirky, fun piece that has a jovial spirit with a wink and a nod to the automated world of the 1960s. He is lighthearted and positive and hopes that people will see that not every message of diversity or activism has to be deep and heavy.

He says, “It can be a fun enjoyable piece that still inspires people to think more broadly about inclusion.”

On Thursday at 7 p.m. following a workshop with Brew, will be a timely and relevant panel discussion led by renowned journalist, Jordan Levin on “What is the Future of Physically Integrated Dance” and will include all four Artistic Directors. It is a big topic.

Brew says, “Each work is so different. People may think physically integrated dance is all the same, but no, it’s not. Each company, each artist is very different.”

In final thoughts, Peterson says, “I wish for audiences to come with an open mind and not to have any preconceived notions about dance and disability. Twenty-five dancers who are performing on Sept. 25 have really made a large effort to travel and come to Miami, so I really hope the Miami audiences will reciprocate with that positive energy.”

Speaking of a recent performance outdoors, Peterson adds, “You heard the reactions in the audience, they were really moved and appreciative. I was sort of floored by the fantastic audience feedback. This is going to be a beautiful concert.”

To win a pair of tickets, answer this question: What is the name of the choreographer who created "Remember When," which will be performed at Saturday's show. CLICK HERE to send your answer

Winners will be notified by email. Tickets will be held at box office.

Winners MUST RSVP to upon receiving notice.

ID necessary at box office to claim tickets.

Third Annual Forward Motion Physically Integrated Dance Festival & Conference WHEN:

  • Wednesday, Sept. 22, 5 to 6:30 p.m., workshop with Dancing Wheels
  • Thursday, Sept. 23, 5 to 6:30 p.m., workshop with Marc Brew; 7 p.m. Conversation with

Company Directors:

  • Friday, Sept. 24, 5:30 to 6:45 p.m., Community Contact Improvisation; 7 p.m., "I Am A Dancer" with Marc Brew; 8 p.m. reception, open to public.
  • Saturday, Sept. 25, 2 and 8 p.m., performances by all companies


  • Saturday matinee and evening performances, Miami-Dade County Auditorium main stage, 2901 West Flagler Street, Miami, FL, 33135
  • Wednesday, Thursday and Friday all events, Koubek Center-Miami Dade College, 2705 SW 3rd Street, Miami, FL, 33135


  • Wednesday and Thursday workshops, $10 at door
  • Thursday "Conversation" free
  • Friday, all events free
  • Saturday matinee or evening performances are $25 general admission, $18 for students with ID, seniors 65 and over, and those with disabilities.
    Tickets through Ticketmaster or in-person at the Auditorium box office; all ticket links, group sales and full info visit


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