The Future of Inclusive Dance Practice in the USA


Thursday June 8 | 3:45 PM – 5:00 PM


Jennifer Calienes (Moderator)

Jennifer Calienes is a Massachusetts based consultant working as facilitator, project manager and strategic advisor for a range of developing arts initiatives across the country. Current clients include AXIS Dance Company, Jacob’s Pillow Dance, Monica Bill Barnes & Company, Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and Urban Bush Women. As Founding Director of the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (2004-2014), Jennifer developed the nation's first choreographic center, the only such center in the world situated within a research university. From 1999-2004, Jennifer served as Program Manager for the National Dance Project at the New England Foundation for the Arts. She is an active advocate for contemporary dance makers and the support of new work, and has served as panelist, chair and facilitator for programs at The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, The MAP Fund, National Endowment for the Arts and United States Artists. She is a Founding Board Member of the National Center for Choreography at The University of Akron and serves on the Board of Vermont Performance Lab. She holds a BS in Arts Administration with a Dance Concentration from Butler University.



Judith Smith (Speaker)

Judith Smith, Founder and Director of AXIS Dance Company, was born and raised in Colorado. Prior to becoming disabled in a car accident at age 17 in 1977, Judith was a champion equestrian. She transferred her passion for riding to dance after discovering contact improvisation in 1983. She has earned an international reputation in the field of physically integrated dance. Judith has commissioned works by some of the nation’s best choreographers and composers and has developed one of the field’s most extensive integrated dance education/outreach programs. Judith has taught dance and presented at community organizations, schools, universities and conferences. She has been on the faculty of Florida Dance Festival and Bates Dance Festival. In addition, she serves on numerous conference panels, arts review panels and is on the advisory board of the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography, The National Art and Disability Center, Dancers’ Group and Bates Dance Festival.

Her advocacy work led to the first-ever National Convening on the Future of Physically Integrated Dance in the USA, followed by six regional town halls throughout the country in 2016. This project was supported by the prestigious Doris Duke Charitable Foundation National Project Program.

Her accomplishments include participation in Stanford’s Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders in the Arts and Dance/USA’s Leadership for Artistic Directors. Judith has received the 2010 Dreamspeakers’ Award, the 2009 Alameda County Arts Leadership Award, KQED’s Local Hero and the Homer Avila danceAble awards in 2005 and Artship Foundation’s Local Hero award in 1999. She was honored with an Isadora Duncan Dance Award for Sustained Achievement in 2014, the O2 Initiatives Sabbatical Award in 2015 and in 2016 she was honored as one of Theatre Bay Area’s 40 people that have changed the face of Bay Area theatre.

In her spare time, Judith raises butterflies and is actively involved in thoroughbred racehorse rescue and adaptive carriage driving.



Marisa Hamamoto (Speaker)

Marisa Hamamoto is a Professional Ballroom & Salsa Dancer, Speaker, Activist, and Founder & Artistic Director of Infinite Flow, a nonprofit organization based in Los Angeles, CA, and America’s 1st professional wheelchair ballroom dance company. After 20 years of dancing ballet and contemporary dance in both the US and Japan, Marisa started ballroom dancing while recovering from Spinal Cord Infarction, a severe neurological disease which caused her to become temporarily paralyzed from the neck down. Today, Marisa is back on her feet dancing professionally, and as a way of giving back her love for dance, founded Infinite Flow in March 2015. It’s mission to mass market inclusion through dance and innovation. Since then, she has instructed 200+ wheelchair users, and has brought Infinite Flow’s professional dance troupe members to perform 50+ times. She has been featured on over 60 media placements across TV, press, and digital content, including NBC Today, NowThis, Refinery 29, Good Magazine, and others. Her videos of Infinite Flow have been viewed 20 million+ times just on Facebook alone. Marisa is 4th generation Japanese American and speaks both English and Japanese Fluently. She grew up in California, but earned both her BA and MA on merit scholarships from Keio University, the “Harvard” of Japan. While in college, Marisa linked her dancing with her academic studies, and researched and published papers in the fields of Dance Science and Dance Education and served on leadership for the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science for 3 years. She was named “Newcomer of the Year” at the San Fernando Valley Business Journal Women in Business Awards in 2015, “San Fernando Inspirational Woman of the Year 2017” by the San Fernando Valley United Chambers of Commerce, and her groundbreaking “#InfiniteInclusion Flashmob” video was chosen as Video of the Month by Dance Teacher Magazine. Marisa has volunteered 30+ hours weekly since January 2015 to get Infinite Flow off the ground. She is a leader and artist on the rise and is committed create extraordinary art while creating massive positive impact in the world.



Mary Verdi-Fletcher (Speaker)

Mary Verdi-Fletcher has been a pioneering force in the development and success of physically integrated dance worldwide for over 3 decades. As one of the first and foremost professional wheelchair dancers, she has worked and studied with such esteemed artists as Donald McKayle, David Rousseve, Dianne McIntyre, Dennis Nahat, Keith Young, Ben Vereen, Christopher Reeve and many others. After the inception of the Dancing Wheels Company in 1980, Mary realized the dire need for training and career advancement for dancers of all ability levels, which ultimately lead to the creation of the multi-arts Dancing Wheels School in 1990. Attracting students from around the globe, the school rapidly became the most sought after site for training in the formal techniques of physically integrated dance. As an educator, Mary has conducted master classes, lectures and has consulted with notable arts institutions across several continents. Also, a tireless arts administrator and advocate, Mary has contributed to the development of state and national programs for arts and disability service organizations. She has worked to help pass significant pieces of legislation including the Americans with Disabilities Act established in 1990, which has paved the way for others in their quest for full and equal access.

Prior to founding The Dancing Wheels Company & School, Mary Verdi-Fletcher helped to create the first Independent Living Center in the State of Ohio. In this role as the first Attendant Care Coordinator, Mary developed statewide training programs and curriculum that was later used throughout the State of Ohio. She later went on to become the first Development Director for the organization, raising over $100,000 in her first year. As a member of the Advocates for Disabled Ohioans organization, she led a statewide advocacy effort that bussed 100 individuals with disabilities to the State Capital to give testimony on behalf of a piece of legislation, ultimately leading to a statewide personal care assistance program. This legislation was the catalyst that allowed for the deinstitutionalization and independent lifestyle for thousands of Ohioans with disabilities. Mary and her compatriots also took a militant stand to ensure equal opportunities for people with disabilities who wanted to ride public transportation. This action led to making every public bus in the nation accessible to everyone, as she is fondly called the "Rosa Parks of Cleveland".

As the President/Founding Artistic Director of The Dancing Wheels Company & School, Mary works countless hours to impact the lives of thousands of children and adults each year. She secures funding for over 40% of her students with disabilities and those with socio-economic challenges to be able to attend the Dancing Wheels School on scholarship. She leads a fulltime Company of 15 stand up and sit down dancers who travel the globe performing and educating hundreds of thousands of individuals with and without disabilities. The Company tours to over 70 locations each year offering first-rate performances from some of the nation's best choreographers. Since the Company’s inception in 1980 more than 5 million individuals have witnessed the beauty and unique performances of her revolutionary troupe. From the stage to the screen, the Dancing Wheels Company & School has made an indelible mark on the way society views the artistry and ability of people who live with a disability.



Karen Peterson Corash (Speaker)

Karen Peterson Corash, a graduate of the Boston Conservatory, founder and artistic director of Karen Peterson and Dancers based in Miami, Florida has been a “leader” in the field of physically integrated dance for 25 years. She has received multiple fellowships and awards for her vision of physically integrated dance as a choreographer, trainer, guest speaker and teacher. She works with dance artists with different abilities as a message of inclusion, collaboration and inspiration. Since her company became a non -profit in 1990, her teachings and choreographies have inspired others in New York City, Atlanta, Cleveland, Washington DC, Brazil, Italy, Scotland, Bosnia, Serbia, Guatemala, Montenegro, Portugal, Austria and Ireland.

She is dedicated to the idea that all individuals have the right to the creation and presentation of contemporary dance through rigorous training and deep collaborations. She exposes ideas of inclusion through movement improvisation and investigation between dancers with varied physical abilities and uses that movement language in choreography. She is interested in diversity and how we can collaborate through physical touch to cross barriers, overcome prejudices and find new and honest meaning with one another.

She has worked with therapists, special needs teachers, dance artists, all ages of students and disability activists and has offered mixed-ability events through lectures, workshops and performances.

She received a Lifetime Achievement Award for her commitment to dance and disability, from the New World School of the Arts, a Coldwell Bankers Cares Award, A Citizen Interested in the Arts Award, Cultural Exchange Fund APAP Travel Award, an Autism Speaks Award and a $150,000 John and James L Knight Foundation Challenge Award to present FORWARD MOTION – an International Festival of Physically Integrated Dance that will take place in Miami in September 2018 and 2019 with Candoco, a world class physically integrated dance company from London and renown Axis Dance from San Francisco, California.

She is a recipient of the 2015 Bank of America American Red Cross Cultural Arts Award for Women and was named one of the “Queen of the Arts” by the Miami Herald in September 2014.

Karen and her team teachers also direct the well-loved, annual “Talent Showcase”, a 20-week residency program, now in its 12th year, for 250 Miami Dade students with special needs. Since 2006, she has reached over 4000 teenagers with disabilities through hands on dance residency and performance program.

Her company will celebrate a 27th Anniversary May 11th, 12th, 2017 at the Miami Dade County Auditorium for 14 dancers in SCRUTINY promoted through the Miami/ Vienna Dance Exchange and the Miami Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs.



Peter DiMuro (Speaker)

Peter DiMuro has woven a career as a choreographer, arts administrator, director, teacher, community engager and performer. His original company, Peter DiMuro Performance Associates and his fifteen-year collaboration, including 5 years as Artistic Director, with Liz Lerman Dance Exchange laid the foundation for his current creative umbrella, Peter DiMuro / Public Displays of Motion. PDM develops dance/theatre works and actively cultivates arts literacy, advocacy and engagement.

His early works created at the height of the AIDS crisis began a shift for him, dealing with content, form and structure as effective tools of communication for personal and social concerns. Often involving text and memory, Peter began to explore multiple means of storytelling through movement in non-traditional ways, always interested in giving audiences recognizable landmarks of articulated ideas or thoughts but transporting them to new places through the juxtaposition of movement collage, bits of narrative and iconic images.

Peter's work has been commissioned by leading presenters and universities, including The Kennedy Center/DC, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center/MD, Dance Place/DC, Bates Dance Festival, American Dance Festival, AURAS Dance/Lithuania, The Boston Conservatory and Point Park University. A commission from MetLife and the national office of VSArts resulted in an all-abilities-inclusive work based on Shakespeare’s sonnets, with an intergenerational cast of persons with and without disabilities.

He has taught in professional dance settings as well as in non-arts identified cultures, including teaching social workers creative practices in Hong Kong, engaging teams of managers at Whole Foods in story-telling and movement projects; and designing and teaching multi-genre artists to work with elder populations for the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Elder Arts Initiative.

He created, collaborated on and directed seminal projects for Dance Exchange, founded by MacArthur “Genius” Award recipient Liz Lerman, including “The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Project”, engaging shipyard workers, Navy personnel, city officials of Portsmouth, NH and members of the community over a 2 year span; and the 17-city tour of the “Hallelujah Project”, working with clergy of all faiths and faith-based communities on ideas of sustenance.

With Dance Exchange, Peter toured his own “Near/Far/In/Out”, an intergenerational LGBTQ based performance work, bridging the subject matter of early dances and workshops he created during the AIDS crisis, with a new perspective of the current and ever-shifting relationships of the LGTBQ community with mainstream America. Other projects in this decades-long focus include “Coming Out for Straight People”, a workshop-to-performance experience; and “Gumdrops & The Funny Uncle” an alternative-family Nutcracker, highlighting families of choice and including members of the LGTBQ, adoptive families, bi-racial, bi-national communities. Peter DiMuro/ Public Displays of Motion is in residence at the Boston Center for the Arts.

Peter is grateful for previous support from the NEA, the National Performance Network, and, more recently, from Boston Foundation’s Next Step, the Boston Dance Alliance; the Mayor’s Office of Boston/Cultural Affairs designation as an Artist in Residence for the city; and The Dance Complex, for which he serves as Executive & Artistic Director, curating performance and creating creative laboratories for dance-makers. In May, Peter received a Lifetime Achievement Award in Dance from Salem State University.

He received an MFA in Dance from Connecticut College under Martha Myers; a BFA in Theatre from Drake University, with early study with Sally Garfield and Gerri Houlihan, and continued study in New York, Boston and at the American Dance Festival.