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Cleveland's Dancing Wheels honors families affected by dementia

The performance serves as a bridge between community organizations and those directly affected by memory loss.

CLEVELAND — For months and months, the unified dancers of Cleveland's Dancing Wheels have been hard at work for an upcoming performance.

But it's not your ordinary performance; it's a tribute to every single person touched by memory loss. It's called "Making Memories: A Journey through Dementia."

"Well, originally, the thought came to me by our choreographer, Mark Tomasic," Dancing Wheels President and founding Artistic Director Mary Verdi-Fletcher said. "We were talking about creating a new work, and the time, his family was working with professionals, trying to resolve issues that his mother was having with dementia. (Mark) felt compelled to create a piece based on their experiences and his mother and father and their memories of when they were dating."

Dancing Wheels applied for a major grant with the National Dance Project, and it was accepted.

"We were accepted one of only, I think, 11 or 12 in the nation. And, because it was such a poignant kind of subject matter, they encouraged us to wanna reach out to the community, to not only create the piece or just do a performance, but to build relationships with organizations that serve caregivers and patients with dementia and Alzheimer's," Mary said.

Mark's vision -- born from his own experiences with the disease.

"My mom, at that point, had been living with dementia for about four or five years, and I was like, 'This is the piece I need to make about (my parents') relationship and about the relationship that we all had with her and what it was like to care for her," Mark Tomasic said.

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The movements of each piece Tomasic created are the perfect mix between dance and memories. They're also a beautiful nod to his late parents and a way for him to let his mom shine again.

"(My mom) would come out into the living room and be twirling her baton and I would immediately get on my phone and just, like, tape her doing these little routines," Mark remembered.

Between each piece during the performance, you hear an audio recording of Mark's mom.

Dancing Wheels is dedicated to merging different communities.

"To build relationships with organizations that serve caregivers and patients with dementia and Alzheimer's," Mary said.

And, the company is learning, too.

"I do not have dementia and am not diagnosed with dementia, but allowing that message to be conveyed, and just to get the message out that we understand and we're teaching," dancer and rehearsal director Morgan Walker said. "That is my job and that's my purpose. Like, this is the most fulfilling reason why I keep doing what I do."

During the performance, audience members went on a journey. And, no matter where they are in the process of learning about dementia, they'll know they're not alone.

"What it's like to be a patient with Alzheimer's and dementia, what it's like to be a caregiver, you know, there's so many issues and so many emotional aspects that it gave me more fire and more drive to make this production something that would inspire and allow people that are in this situation to know that they're not alone," Mary said. "It will create, hopefully, a camaraderie between people in the audience on stage for their future and give them hope."

Editor's Note: The following video is from a previous, unrelated report.


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