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Arts & Culture

Brunswick native's film about dance and inclusivity screens at Cleveland International Film Festival

A still from the movie Everybody Dance
Dan Watt
Kandoo Films, Inc.
A woman pulls a ballet slipper onto the foot of a dance student in a wheelchair in the documentary, "Everybody Dance," produced and directed by Brunswick, Ohio native Dan Watt.

Have you ever had the experience of being at a wedding or some celebration where there's a band and a dance floor and you turn to your partner and say, "Come on, let's dance?" And he says, I can't dance?

Former dancer and choreographer and northeast Ohio native Dan Watt would say everybody can and should dance? "Everybody Dance" is the name of his documentary, showing this Sunday and Monday at the 46th annual Cleveland International Film Festival. In it, he follows several unlikely dancers as they prepare for a dance recital. "Morning Edition" host Amy Eddings spoke with Watt about the film.

Full disclosure Dan and I grew up together in Brunswick. He was a year ahead of me in high school and we used to go dancing together

(Laughing) Yes, we did!

That was so much fun! The origin of this film, you wrote to me, is mystical. You were originally thinking of doing a film about the value of learning dance, even if you don't end up being a dancer. Tell me how you found your subject.

Dan Watt headshot
Dan Watt
Dfrito Media
Dan Watt

I always wanted to know if someone you know had to take it as a child for a couple of years. How did they apply? Did they learn anything and was there anything they could apply in their everyday life? So that was my initial concept. And then I had a dream about some girls I taught 20 years ago when I was a teacher, and they were two cousins with autism. And I had a dream of me teaching them in class, and I woke up, and I thought, well, that's interesting. I haven't thought about Fran and her kids in years. I didn't give it a second thought after that, and then I had the dream again, about two weeks later. I thought to myself, you know, this is this is God handing me my movie on a platter. He's like, “Here it is, dude, I'm telling you your movie.”

Bonnie Schlacte, founder of Ballet for All Kids, works with people on the autism spectrum. Some are sensitive to touch, some are sensitive to sound. Some have trouble processing language cues. She has come up with ways to teach to all these special needs in the film. She shows us a prop. She uses a large wooden pair of scissors.

(Bonnie Schlachte, speaking in the documentary) “Most ballet classes, they'll say, ‘Be like a pair of scissors, jump open and close,’ and again, with somebody with auditory processing, that's not going to fly. But I actually use props where I can show them and be like, ‘Open and close and open and close,’ [she opens and closes a four-foot-long pair of wooden scissors] and that way they can actually see it.”

I think that's remarkable that she's found all of these different access points for her students.

I learned a lot from Bonnie in regards to what teachers should do. That's the job of any teacher or any choreographer, again, is to try to find the way in to help any student learn. A lot of people have a preconceived idea and might even judge someone with a differing ability. The reality is we all have stumbling blocks that are put in our lives and pop up in front of us. And these are obstacles that we just need to get around.

Bonnie speaks to this very powerfully at one point in your film.

(Bonnie, speaking in the documentary) "Again, to put people in boxes is frustrating. To say, like, 'Oh my gosh, they're disabled!' And I want to be, like, 'Well, so are you! They're just a little more self-aware!'"

We are all magnificent. And we are all the same. And I'm hoping that my film will offer a little insight and maybe even educate us a little more on the things that we don't understand.

Dan Watt is the producer and director of "Everybody Dance." It screens at the 46th Annual Cleveland International Film Festival Sunday, April 3, 4:45 p.m. and Monday, April 4, 12 p.m.