Monday, October 12, 2015

USF News: Unprecedented Dance and Disability Event Hosted by VSA Florida with Merry Lynn Morris Artistic Director

[copied/reprinted from University of South Florida News Channel: ]

Unprecedented Dance and Disability Event Oct. 14 – 17

Leading artists coming to USF to perform, participate in workshops and use Merry Lynn Morris’ revolutionary Rolling Dance Chair; Chinese dance star Liu Yan makes her U.S. debut.
Hanna Harchakova and Ihar Kisialiou, World and European champions in wheelchair ballroom dancing, will appear at the Oct. 16 concert.

By Barbara Melendez
      USF News
TAMPA, Fla. (Oct. 12, 2015) – A truly unique and groundbreaking dance and disability event at USF promises to help redefine how the world understands and appreciates dance. Dancers of all abilities and those who love dance will encounter some of the most remarkable dancers in the field.

Harchakova and Kisialiou
Over four days from Oct. 14 to 17, VSA Florida’s “A New Definition of Dance: An International Mixed Ability Showcase and Educational Initiative,” presents performances and opportunities to learn from an international array of guest artists. This event honors the 40th anniversary of VSA (the statewide affiliated arts and disability organization is headquartered at the University of South Florida) and the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The main performance takes place Oct. 16, 8 p.m. in Theatre II, 3829 West Holly Drive, and tickets are available at the USF College of The Arts box office, $5 for adults and free to USF students, seniors and K-22 students. For ticket information, visit There is a reception following the performance next door at the Contemporary Art Museum.
This mixed ability dance project, supported through a National Endowment for the Arts grant, brings together a diverse range of national and international performers to perform hip hop, ballroom, African, Chinese classical and modern dance originating from Canada, Belarus, California, New York, Beijing, Miami and Tampa.
Performers include Canadian break dancer Luca “Lazy Legz” Patuelli, renowned Chinese classical dancer Liu Yan making her U.S. debut, West African drummer and dancer, Sidiki Conde, World and European Wheelchair Ballroom Dance champions, Hanna Harchakova and Ihar Kisialiou, and other accomplished artists (see sidebar).
The public can observe some of the classes, attend a performance at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital and take part in a REVolutions Dance class. The Confucius Institute is hosting a special invitation-only reception for Liu. For schedule and details, click here.
Many of the artists will try out the Rolling Dance Chair, pioneered by Merry Lynn Morris, USF Dance program faculty member and academic advisor and the primary organizer of this event. Working collaboratively, Morris and Liu will develop a piece of choreography utilizing the prototype chair.
One of the participants, Sonsheree Giles, while not disabled herself, performed a duet on ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ with Rodney Bell and has danced with AXIS Dance Company for 15 years.
A Groundbreaking Event
Motivated by the time she spent as a caregiver for her father as well as her love of dance and choreography, Morris has become world renowned for her research work in dance, disability and assistive technology and the development of the chair project which she began in 2005.
Morris explains that “A New Definition of Dance” is a groundbreaking event.
“When performers with disabilities are brought in as guest artists, it is usually only a single company or a sole individual,” she said. “Rarely will one see this many guest artists with disabilities collectively being brought together to perform and conduct workshops. Regionally, nationally and probably internationally, it is a pretty rare type of event, given all of the diverse layers which we encompass.
“Many technologies now used by the majority grew out of disability needs, such as elevators, ramps, different types of doorknobs, text to speech, closed captioning options, etc.,” Morris reminds us. “Disability actually is a pathway to innovation – it prompts and in fact, demands that we think more creatively about the design of our world as a diverse body of human beings.”
When Morris introduced the idea of such an event to multiple potential collaborators, she received positive responses and encouragement. VSA Florida and Morris applied for and received a National Endowment for the Arts grant in order to move forward. From there it was full steam ahead.
VSA, founded by Jean Kennedy Smith, is an international organization headquartered at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. with affiliates in many parts of the U.S. and abroad including Austria, Canada, Lithuania, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Jamaica, France and other nations.
“The organization’s goal is to make the arts accessible to people with disabilities and give them professional opportunities and training. It is a pretty interesting non-profit model and USF is fortunate to have such a well-established organization in residence,” said Morris.
Further support has come from USF Disability Services; the USF College of The Arts; the USF School of Theatre & Dance; the USF Contemporary Art Museum; the Confucius Institute; USF World; the USF Department of World Languages' Russian program and the USF Russian Club; the Chinese-American Association; the Gobioff Foundation; Lynn’s Rolling Dance Chair Project; National Seating and Mobility (NSM); Quantum Rehabilitation; Culture Builds Florida; REVolution Dance; A-Ability; and Tampa General Hospital. Quantum and NSM are partnering with Morris on the development of the Rolling Dance Chair.
Morris is very pleased about all the elements that came together to make this event possible. A lot of coordination was called for and cooperation has saved the day.
“While I have been responsible for many aspects of the planning, and at times it can certainly seem overwhelming, it has been wonderful to have synergistic collaborators, including Deb McCarthy from Disability Services and REVolutions Dance. Additionally, sponsors such as USF World from whom I applied for some funding, and the Confucius Institute have been very supportive in facilitating the needs of the project,” Morris said.
“We have a lot of integrative aspects across campus as well as linkages within the community such the VA Hospital, the University of Tampa and several public schools.”
There are multiple goals and layers involved in the showcase.
“There’s the educational aspect – informing our students and the community about disability and the arts through workshops and performances. And I’m coordinating the research aspect – using this opportunity to conduct my own research in dance, disability and assistive technology. And finally, we’re using the opportunity as a means of placing these artists in intersection and dialogue with each other to hopefully spawn more collaborative products in the future.”
One collaborative product is already trying to take shape.

Luca "Crazy Legz" Patuelli  Photo by: Patrick Sansregret
“A student from engineering recently emailed me about having Luca Patuelli test his new crutch design,” Morris said. In the midst of everything, she’s working on connecting IsmetHandžić, Ph.D. with Patuelli. But then this fits in with Morris’ work which is in perfect synch with USF’s research focus. Her reputation as an innovative assistive technology researcher was established at USF with her Rolling Dance Chair Project. So it makes perfect sense that she designed and structured the schedule of events and various surrounding activities to support all the goals and layers.
“I wanted to enable each of the performers to take part in each other’s workshops, this way we can create a more informed dialogue around various teaching approaches and methods for dance and disability curriculum,” she said. “I intentionally sought out guest artists from different dance genres and with differing backgrounds in order to expand the context for understanding what is happening in the dance and disability field – and how we can continue to push the field forward in exciting and productive ways.”
Morris also had many others in mind.
“Although progress has been made with the ADA and initiatives by various disability organizations, prejudice still persists. In the planning of this event, we have tried to be attentive to disability issues with regard to the performance in particular – including options for audio description – for individuals with visual impairment, audio transcription – for individuals with hearing impairment, assistive listening devices and wheelchair accessibility, large print programs, etc. All too often, disability is still placed at the margins as the afterthought in the design of the physical and social world. There is still much work to be done in heightening attention to disability issues including design and accessibility on multiple levels.”

Barbara Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563


Thank you Barbara Melendez for this great article for the VSA Florida Event!
With Love and Best to All, Merry Lynn Morris

Here is the actual live piece performed on 10/16/2015 as part of the performances of "Ä New Definition of Dance" / "Concealing-Revealing" with dancers Liu Yan, Cynthia Hardegree, and Merry Lynn Morris, Choreographer and Artistic Director.  The Artwork and videography editing were done by His Sonshine and Ariel Arts with photography and rehearsal footage by David Shelor who also is an engineer working with the Rolling Dance Chair Project and directs from backstage the Dance Chair movements with our wonderful programmer and innovative controller designer Neil Edmonston and his incredibly supportive and beautiful wife, Talia!  Thank you to so many people.... including the wonderful professional photographers Tom Kramer and Jim Lennon who volunteer their time to document the process for the Rolling Dance Chair Project and to document VSA of Florida's cutting edge international dance week event! The performance on Friday was sold out with people wrapping around Theatre 2....! Next time - we plan on at least two performance showings! We are all so grateful for everything and the immense bonding with international dance artists that will no doubt continue - thankfully!

"CONCEALING-REVEALING" Live Performance Video ]
The basis for the piece "Concealing/Revealing" is on the Three Graces - or a "Graces Three Ballet" where face and form interplay with being hidden or revealed and the support in being vulnerable as one may be revealed without necessarily wanting to be.


Here also is a brief rehearsal snippet of Liu Yan's 1st day in Tampa:


With much love,
Merry Lynn ...... and Sonshine

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Interview Rolling Dance Chair Project Founder Merry Lynn Morris

Tampa Bay Community Network interviewed Merry Lynn Morris in depth for the "Culture Vultures" art program hosted by Linda Saul-Sena.

They discussed the many outgrowths and inspirations for the Rolling Dance Chair Project which Merry Lynn founded from 2004. Also mentioned is the VSA of Florida week-long dance workshops and performances October 14 - 17, 2015 with an evening performance Friday 10-16-2015 8PM USF Theatre 2, Merry Lynn Morris, Artistic Director. Here is the link for the VSA Florida event:

Thank you for the wonderful opportunity in appearing on your show Linda Saul-Sena and to all at Tampa Bay Community Network!

With Love and Best to all, Merry Lynn Morris

International Dance Artist Liu Yan Testing Rolling Dance Chair with Merry Lynn Morris

International Dance Artist Liu Yan and her family came to the US to develop feedback in testing the latest prototype of the Rolling Dance Chair Project founded and designer patented by Merry Lynn Morris.

Merry Lynn Morris assists Liu Yan in latest Rolling Dance Chair prototype during VSA of Florida dance week event: "A New Definition of Dance" with Cynthia Frances Hardegree and Liu Yan's dad. {Photo Courtesy of Tom Kramer Dance Photographer}

International Dance Artist Liu Yan rehearses during VSA of Florida dance week event "A New Definition of Dance" with Merry Lynn Morris, Artistic Director. [Photo courtesy of Tom Kramer Dance Photographer]

We are so honored that Liu Yan and her family came to Tampa to work with us and be part of a new dance vision. ... -  and also that this is a first trip to America - an honor to have them here!

The video chronicles Liu Yan's first day in a week-long event of workshops and performances sponsored by VSA of Florida called: "A New Definition of Dance" in Tampa Florida with Merry Lynn Morris. A final performance  is Friday October 16, 2015 8:00PM at the University of South Florida Theatre 2, Merry Lynn Morris, Artistic Director. Here is the VSA link for the event: VSA of Florida Presents: "A New Definition of Dance"

(As a note to understand Liu Yan's interest in the Rolling Dance Chair Project and more on her background:  Liu Yan, a classical Chinese dancer, was chosen as the lead dancer in the Beijing 2008 Olympics opening ceremony.  Unfortunately, during a rehearsal, Ms. Liu was severely injured from a malfunctioning stage device which damaged her spinal cord leaving her paralyzed and now in a wheelchair.)

We are so grateful for the support of VSA of Florida in making this event and collaboration possible! Also - many thanks to Dance Photographers Tom Kramer and James Michael Lennon / Lennon Media, Inc. Thank you, too for invaluable assistance from Dancer Cynthia Frances Hardegree ! 

With Love - Best to all, Merry Lynn Morris & Sonshine!

(A brief rehearsal snippet of the above video is here: )

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Belarus (Minsk) Dancers Hanna Harchakova (Anna) and Ihar Kisialiou (Igor) Visit Tampa Florida with Merry Lynn Morris

Belarus  (Minsk) Dancers Anna & Igor Visit Tampa Florida with
Merry Lynn Morris & REVolutions Dance at USF

Visiting Dancers from Belarus, (Minsk) contacted me as they toured the U.S and we collaborated in a beautiful class at USF with REVolutions Dance Company in Tampa, Florida.    (See video below.)

Belarus, (Minsk) Dancers with Merry Lynn Morris at USF
Tampa, Florida
A Belarus Project, brought to you by World Partnerships & the U.S. Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program.

It was a great pleasure recently meeting visitors from Belarus who are leaders of various disability organizations. We discussed arts and disability programming and opportunities for collaboration. A particular highlight was having Hanna Harchakova, a wheelchair ballroom dance champion, teach a class to the REVolutions Dance students and also participate in the class I taught. A special thanks to the assistants who joined us in the class, Sharon, Laura, Takema and Cara as well as the individuals from Pyramid, Inc. and the parents who were there! This delegation is hosted by World Partnerships, Inc. (, since 2000 the official St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay regional partner of the US Department of State “International Visitor Leadership Program” (IVLP).

The sponsorship of the US Department of State "International Visitor Leadership Program" (IVLP)... is such an impressive act to consider worldwide disabilities and disability in general. As I mentioned at the end of the video segment, "Disability is the one minority that you (everyone) will join if you live long enough."... may we always join the leadership to create the avenues which enable us all!

Beautiful Collaborations ! And to explore the idea of an exchange degree at USF with one of your students !.... I am looking forward to so much more! *

With Love,
Merry Lynn Morris

* on October 14-17, 2015 an incredible collaborative concert at USF Tampa Florida is in the works wiith a grant from the NEA (National Endowments for the Arts) which  I applied for in collaboration with VSA Florida / The State Organization on Arts and Disability. - This concert and workshop will include INTERNATIONAL DANCE ARTISTS with worldwide recognition....(note - I will update here the poster link and bios of all participating ... which will include: Belarus Dancers Anna & Igor.)..... 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Association of University Technology Managers AUTM Video Award for Rolling Dance Chair Project by Merry Lynn Morris - "AUTM Put A Face On It" Award 2013

It was such an honor to have the Rolling Dance Chair Project chosen for the Association of University Technology Managers AUTM Video Award - "AUTM Put A Face On It" Award for 2013!

We worked with CeliCreative Tampa Design Studio to bring this video to fruition and they did a wonderful job! The goal of the AUTM video award is to support/showcase "unique videos that feature the people who benefit from university-developed innovations." The video award focuses upon the real-world, lived application of innovative technologies and the transformation of people's lives. Special thanks to those who appeared in the video including: Jessica and Eileen Hendricks, Dwayne Scheuneman - Director of REVolutions Dance, Dr. Paul Sanberg - USF Senior Vice President for Research & Innovation and Executive Director / Center of Excellence for Aging & Brain Repair, and Valerie McDevittU.S. Registered Patent Attorney and Associate Vice President at the University of South Florida for Technology Transfer, Division of Patents and Licensing as well as special thanks to the wonderful efforts of Lauren Golin and Dr. Terri Hunter from the USF Office of Patents and Licensing, who helped it all come together. 

Best to All and many Thanks!

Designer, Patent Inventor

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Rolling Dance Chair on DAYTIME SHOW WFLA with Merry Lynn Morris

It was a real honor to have the Rolling Dance Chair showcased on the DAYTIME SHOW - WFLA Tampa, Florida.  Merry Lynn Morris was interviewed by hosts Cyndi Edwards and Jerry Penacoli, while Dwayne Scheuneman demonstrated the Dance Chair with Merry Lynn.  Here is the video interview:

From The Daytime Show link which aired 12/19/2013: 

"Merry Lynn Morris from the University of South Florida joins us to tell us more about the Rolling Dance/Mobility Chair project.  This project was started to allow disabled individuals to be able to express themselves through dance, but has morphed into the development of a chair that gives the disabled unprecedented mobility.  This is a great conversation on how working to solve a specific problem can unexpectedly solve larger, general problems."

Thank You Daytime Show and hosts and producer Deanna Moore! 

We appreciate all your wonderful efforts to get the info out!

Merry Lynn Morris & Sonshine

Monday, October 28, 2013

Merry Lynn Morris on Craig Melvin "BIG IDEA"

As resources go... while Merry Lynn Morris was in Texas on two presentations and teaching Ballet Master Classes at two Universities - Texas A&M and TWU  - MSNBC Craig Melvin interviewed Merry Lynn in Dallas, Texas about the latest news on the Rolling Dance Chair Project!  Bravo to Craig Melvin and MSNBC for making all the spectacular arrangements to get this info out! Amazing timing also and to the driver in getting her there for the interview! .... Very grateful! Thank you Craig Melvin and Dominique Mann of MSNBC and NBC Universal!

with Love

Sonshine (and Merry Lynn) Morris

here follows the video as downloaded from MSNBC:  

on youtube at:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

EXCELLENCE IN INNOVATION AWARD - Merry Lynn Morris 2013 National Academy of Inventors

It was such a privilege to accept the award on behalf of Merry Lynn Morris on 10/21/2013 for the EXCELLENCE IN INNOVATION AWARD for 2013 by the NATIONAL ACADEMY OF INVENTORS for her ROLLING DANCE CHAIR PROJECT AND INVENTION! Dr. Paul R. Sanberg and President of USF Judy Genshaft presented the award with a beautiful plaque!  A wonderful experience for me while Merry Lynn spends her time teaching and presenting in Texas:  Texas A & M  University (TAMU) - three days of intensive Ballet Master Classes with Modern and Improvisation ~ and also graduate studies/presentation at Texas Woman's University (TWU) near Dallas, Texas! Thank you to everyone in coordinating all the presentations and events!

with Love,
Sonshine (and Merry Lynn) Morris

Excellence in Innovation Award for Merry Lynn Morris 2013 National Academy of Inventors
Accepting the Award is Mrs. William R. Morris (Sonshine) - Mom
with President of University of South Florida Judy Genshaft and
President of National Academy of Inventors Dr. Paul R. Sanberg
Photographer is: ©Aimee Blodgett/USF/2013

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dance Chair Mention on Katie Couric Show!

It was a wonderful honor to have the Rolling Dance Chair mentioned and viewed on the Katie Couric Show for 10/16/2013!  In a segment called Daniel's List, Katie talks about Merry Lynn Morris and her invention while she shows video and pictures of the new prototype 3. The video clip coverage for the Dance Chair begins 55 seconds in.....

Link to the video - "Daniel's List: 22 Acts of Kindness" :

VSA Florida Presents Scott MacIntyre

I serve on the Board of Directors for VSA Florida (Very Special Arts) and I am so excited that we brought Scott MacIntyre (the first blind finalist on American Idol) - to USF for a performance 10/18/2013! And, especially grateful to REVolutions Dance for donating as a sponsor for this event!

With Love and Appreciation!
Merry Lynn Morris

An evening you won't want to miss that includes an exhibition of tactile artwork by Horst Mueller, a concert by Scott MacIntyre, the first blind finalist on American Idol and an opportunity to show your support for VSA Florida.

Merry Lynn Morris on University Beat WUSF

Here is the latest interview coverage on the Rolling Dance Chair Project with Merry Lynn Morris, designer / patent inventor for the new prototype 3.  University Beat at USF link includes both video and an audio / radio interview:
USF Dance instructor Merry Lynn Morris dances with Jessica Hendricks, who sits in Morris' invention, the Rolling Dance Chair.

The latest model of the "Rolling Dance Chair"

From the interview:
It’s a high-tech device getting national attention—and it’s not the invention of an engineer, but of a dancer! University Beat on WUSF TV introduces you to USF Professor Merry Lynn Morris and her Rolling Dance Chair, which lets people with disabilities dance.

Here is the video :

Here is more interview from WUSF on more aspects of the Dance Chair:

Friday, October 11, 2013

Explaining Dance Chair Features

The new prototype Dance Chair was first tried by Dancers - Marcie Ryan and Frank Hull in May 2013.  It was a magical day for everyone!  Merry Lynn Morris explains the features while Marcie and Frank express their feelings and feedback!  Really - the looks on their faces say it all!!! One thing to mention is that the seat is completely and INSTANTLY changed out to accommodate anyone with their needs or innovation at the time... with 3D manufacturing - it will be perfect in a moment!  Thank you Marcie and Frank for making the long trip to Tampa, Florida for an amazing experience! We also are appreciative of all the efforts in working together so long.... with our private developers Visual Realm (Mark Rumsey) and Vertec (Rudy Bray & Neil Edmonston). .... And the journey continues!

With Love and Appreciation!
Sonshine and Merry Lynn Morris

(Here is the YouTube link: )

Friday, September 27, 2013

From the Mind of a Dancer Comes a New Kind of Wheelchair ....

INVENTION HAS PEOPLE DANCING IN THEIR SEATS:  A beautiful article relates the newest Dancing Chair prototype which Stephanie Hayes of the Tampa Bay Times covered and we are so grateful for getting the latest info out! Thank You! Thank You! Hoping this creates the opportunities for all it is meant to do!  (Video link: ) 

(From this Article Channel 8 and other stations around the U.S. picked up on the story with their own video coverage:   on YouTube or here:)

Photos from Article:

Dance teacher Merry Lynn Morris and George Elliott, 5, use her electronic dance wheelchair during a mixed-ability dance class at USF.
Dance teacher Merry Lynn Morris and George Elliott, 5, use her electronic dance wheelchair during a mixed-ability dance class
Ella Branscombe, 7, of Clearwater sits in the Rolling Dance Chair invented by dance teacher Merry Lynn Morris.
Ella Branscombe, 7, of Clearwater sits in the Rolling Dance Chair invented by dance teacher Merry Lynn Morris.
Merry Lynn Morris works with students during her mixed-ability dance class in August at USF in Tampa.
Merry Lynn Morris works with students during her mixed-ability dance class in August at USF in Tampa.
“Whoa. This is fun,” says Jessica Hendricks, 7, who has spina bifida and is used to a small traditional wheelchair.
“Whoa. This is fun,” says Jessica Hendricks, 7, who has spina bifida and is used to a small traditional wheelchair.
Bill Morris holds his ballerina daughter, Merry Lynn Morris, in this undated family photo.
William Morris holds his ballerina daughter, Merry Lynn Morris, in this undated family photo

Here is the text of the article:

TAMPA — The kids released their wheelchairs and leg braces, the sticks that help them see and the iPads that help them speak, and piled them in a corner.

They went to Merry Lynn Morris, with her twisting blond hair and legs like a ballerina in a jewelry box. She helped them stretch and rubbed their bellies.

"Reach your arms all the way up," she said. "Look to the sky, and say thank you!"

Morris is a dance professor at the University of South Florida, and more recently, an inventor. She was introducing kids with spina bifida and cerebral palsy to a chair she dreamed up. On this weekend in their class, the chair would let them dance. Not pretend to dance, not be pulled by a dancer, but actually dance.

The kids peered at it, standing tall in the corner of the studio.

Anybody in any body should have the right to dance, Morris said. An accident or a disability needn't relegate the people you love to your back, pushing you, telling you where to go.

If her father had been able to use this chair, he might have danced again, too.

The Rolling Dance Chair was born from the brain of a dancer, not an engineer. It has taken seven years and $150,000 of grant money to get to this point, evolving from a stripped down Segway — those rolling devices that tour groups ride through cities — to a sleek, elegant design.

It's getting closer to what Morris imagined, getting more attention from the world each year. U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, a double amputee, tried the chair on a visit to USF in 2010. In October, Morris will present her invention at the Smithsonian Institution during a conference for innovators, speaking alongside the press secretary from NASA and the deputy director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The chair is stately with a synthetic round seat that's clear, designed to almost disappear under the dancer. It is sturdy enough for a second dancer to stand on, spinning, leg extended in full arabesque.

The most important feature of the chair is the person sitting in it. He is in control. When he leans, the chair moves. The wheels can propel the chair in any direction using the slightest movement of a body.

It's an extension of dance, Morris said, not an obstacle. No one thinks twice about a tap shoe, or a ballet shoe with a wooden block on the end. Think of Broadway dances, the rolling desk chairs and elaborate sets. Think of the hoops and flames of Cirque du Soleil.

People have a harder time getting past a wheelchair.

"You create these devices and people are frightened of them," said Morris, 38. "Get out of the way, here comes the wheelchair user."

Reality doesn't have to be so black and white, and dance doesn't have to be so exact. It's something she has learned over the years.

"The manifestation of this project is sort of my whole way of being in the world," she said. "It has been shaped by the desire to bring multiple realities together."

• • •

Morris was a dancer from the start. She had strong ankles and uncanny leg extension. She also loved to take things apart, ride her bike with no hands and try every piece of equipment on the playground.

She enjoyed the rigid instruction of ballet, the structure it provided. But she also loved when her dad danced silly with her, tossed her in the air, threw his head back and let loose one of his wild belly laughs.

Bill Morris was a man of God, his family said, a Gideon who distributed free Bibles, a Navy veteran. He was starting a marketing business with his wife, whose name was Catherine but whom he nicknamed Sonshine when they first met at a prayer meeting. They said he rescued animals and people, bringing in those who needed a place to stay.

When Merry Lynn Morris was 12, she and her father painted her room in their Tampa home a sunny yellow. She remembers him leaving to go get more paint, but he didn't return. His car was hit head on, his family said. He was in a coma, and the doctors didn't think he would survive. The accident left him with a severe brain injury, a blind eye, a broken hip and a shattered knee. After seizures set in, he had intermittent paralysis and was mostly confined to a wheelchair.

They took him ballroom dancing for therapy and got him to try standing between ballet bars.

"The dancing stimulated him the most," said Sonshine Morris. "He was beaming. He would smile."

He didn't understand basic things — that you need an umbrella in the rain, for example. But he could answer obscure questions on Jeopardy! or say something deeply philosophical.

They tried every chair they could find, from power chairs with joysticks to simple soft shell models. The chairs all had drawbacks, elements that felt cage-like and separate.

Merry Lynn Morris danced in a professional ballet company and studied at USF and Florida State. She rarely meshed her dance world and home life. The crisp rules of dance, the exacting finger positions and postures, were a respite from the complicated reality.

"They didn't really feel like they connected," she said. "Later, I kind of realized that people recognize that life is bigger, and there are important things, and you can share those things."

As for Sonshine, she dreamed her husband and daughter might dance together one more time, that he might fly across the stage with her little girl.

• • •

Morris has long been drawn to "mixed ability" dance, kinesiology, ways to combine dance and science. For years, she has worked with REVolutions Dance, a company for dancers with and without disabilities, which offers weekly dance classes for kids.

In 2000, she saw a performance by wheelchair dancers and noticed how they had to pump the wheels, how the chair was more of a distraction than a seamless part of the movement.

She and her mother spent time in the back yard taking apart Bill's old wheelchairs, fashioning them into marionettes, wondering if clamps and sticks and pulls might make the wheels move — might make the chair dance.

In 2005, Morris approached the USF College of Engineering with the idea for a wheelchair that moved with the user's body. The first grant was for $20,000. The college bought two Segways. Students mounted a seat to one.

Another group worked with an existing power chair, reorienting the connection of the joystick. Pressure changes on the seat caused movement similar to a Segway. It was good at first, but like a new pair of shoes giving slow blisters. It was jerky, had trouble stopping.

"The experimentation process in this project is incredibly important," Morris said. "You can theorize in your head all of these kinds of ideas and concepts and things, but then the actuality of being in the chair, is a totally different piece of it."

The chair went to California to a company called Visual Realm, then to Pensacola and a company called Vertec, where developer Neil Edmonston started work. It needed smoother, more intricate controls. Maybe an object that could be strapped to the head or chest of the person in it, programmed to read subtle movements. But also something a caretaker could use in place of pushing. A remote control, in a way.

A smartphone, Edmonston realized, with its ability to respond when a person tilts it. It was the perfect option for this supercharged century, when we're all really just bodies interacting with devices.

"When you have that kind of flexibility, you open yourself to a great deal of opportunities," Edmonston said. "This is a research project that could potentially be very exciting."

Edmonston envisions the chair eventually working like a robotic vacuum cleaner, programmed to know the boundaries of your house, to know that when you unload the dishwasher, you need to move back and to the right to get to the counter.

It could be used for even more than dance. It's what Morris wanted from the start.

"What my mom and I discovered when we were caregivers were the challenges of what disability means," Morris said. "Just navigation through a space that was designed for a 20-year-old able-bodied person, it has really opened my eyes in how we design things, how we make those choices, and why. Who are we thinking about?"

Bill Morris died decades after his accident. But he did get to watch as his daughter's invention took shape. A series of dance performances at USF featured an early incarnation of the Rolling Dance Chair.

He went to three of the shows, watching from the dark wings, mesmerized.

• • •

Merry Lynn Morris helped Jessica Hendricks climb into the Rolling Dance Chair.

The 7-year-old girl with spina bifida had a pink bow in her hair and a tiny, traditional wheelchair in the corner. Morris set controls on a Samsung Galaxy Smartphone and slipped it into a brace against the little girl's chest.

Jessica moved forward. The chair moved forward.

"Whoa," Jessica said. "This is fun. It can turn?"

Jessica moved 45 degrees and the chair spun. Morris hung on, spinning with her, bending deep and extending her leg, and together they flew across the floor.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at or (813) 226-3394.

Here is the article link w/video: ( Video and pictures by Eve Edelheit)

Thank you, again Stephanie Hayes and all who cared to see this info become reality in those who look for it!

With Love,\

Merry Lynn Morris (and Sonshine)