Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Science Friday - Latest Coverage Rolling Dance Chair Project with Merry Lynn Morris

Science Friday covered the Rolling Dance Chair Project with Merry Lynn Morris in an article by Julie Leibach and a video:  "A Chair Fit for Dancing"   

Here is the video & video link:

Here is a copy of the article:
A Chair Fit For Dancing
by Julie Leibach

Frank Hull is a dancer. His body is prone to spasms, so he uses a power wheelchair to perform as well as to go about his daily routine. By manipulating the joystick, he can move forwards and backwards and pivot on an axis. The chair is sturdy—heavy-duty enough to plow through snow—and it rolls pretty fast when he lays on the controls.

Developing a dance technique using his utilitarian device has been Hull’s passion for more than 15 years. As he puts it, his craft involves developing “ways of relating to the chair with my body artistically—in essence, creating a movement vocabulary that can be turned into dance.”

So a few years ago, when Hull heard that a Florida-based choreographer named Merry Lynn Morris had invented a power chair with dancers in mind, he had to see it for himself.

“I never thought there would be a chair designed for dance,” says Hull, who’s based in Toronto, Canada. “’Course, I had to get to Florida. Didn’t matter how.”

When he finally met Morris at the University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa in May 2013, Hull found a chair tailored for artistic expression. The device was sleek and compact, its wheels hidden from sight. And it could move in all directions—including from side to side and diagonally, which commercial manual wheelchairs and most power chairs, including Hull’s, can’t do.

But the chair had another attractive feature: It was “smart.” To command the device, a user straps on a portable, wireless control—in this case, a cell phone—to a mobile part of her body, say the head or the upper back. When she leans in a desired direction, the phone detects the movement and instructs the chair to follow suit. (As far as Morris knows, there are no wireless power wheelchairs on the market; she has a U.S. patent on her chair’s technology.)

“[The chair is] absolutely unique; I’ve never seen anything like this at all,” says Mary Ellen Buning, a seating and mobility specialist for the University of Louisville Physicians in Kentucky. Someone with good control of the muscles in her torso, she says, “could really make full use of this chair for expressive dance.” (Buning hasn’t seen the device in person but watched a video of it in action.)

When Hull gave the chair a spin, he was struck by the freedom of movement it afforded him. “I wasn’t tied to my joystick,” he says. “I could feel the dance more.”

Morris calls her invention the Rolling Dance Chair, and she’s been working on it for more than a decade, earning five patents in the process. To her, the chair is more than an accessibility device—it’s an opportunity to explore new dance techniques.

“The exciting part for me is actually when different people get in it with their different bodies and their different dance backgrounds,” says Morris, who’s the assistant director of the dance program at USF’s School of Theatre and Dance. “There’s a lot of different ways the chair could be used as a movement tool.”

Morris can hardly remember a time when she wasn’t leaping and twirling. She grew up in a household “surrounded by a lot of creativity”—her mother is a visual artist and her father was a teacher and writer—and she picked up dance at age 3. She traces the inspiration for her Rolling Dance Chair to that lifelong passion, and to two formative experiences.

When she was 12, Morris’s dad got into a major car accident that left him with brain damage and reliant on a wheelchair. “He had a lot of medical equipment and a lot of different types of wheelchairs,” she remembers. But none of his devices were particularly user-friendly. His standard manual wheelchair, for instance, “kind of boxed him in,” she says.

Helping her mother maneuver her father and observing the strain that his disability put on her parents’ relationship got Morris “thinking about these kinds of devices as interfaces between people, and how can they be more organic, more conducive to human interaction.”

Then in 2001, a few years after Morris was hired at USF, she began working with a group of dancers with disabilities. “Most of the individuals that I was working with were wheelchair users who had not a lot of control in their lower body but had a fair amount of control in their upper bodies,” she recalls, “so I started thinking a lot about how this device was supporting their performance or, in some cases, inhibiting it.”

In 2006, Morris received a grant from USF to develop an accessibility chair designed for dance. The first thing she did was order several Segways for research purposes. The Segway, she says, “seemed to be the closest idea at the time” to the device she had in mind: a chair that moved in response to subtle body cues. If a user’s arms and hands were free, they “would be more available to interact with other dancers or do other movements,” says Morris.

Student engineering groups at USF helped Morris build what she calls a “rough draft” of her concept: a retrofitted power chair with sensors built into the seat that caused the device to move forward when a user tilted in that direction.

For the next iteration, Morris recruited a professional team consisting of a programmer and a designer and fabricator. Together, they built the first real prototype, which debuted in May 2013.

At first blush, the Rolling Dance Chair looks like a sleeker, futuristic version of a power chair. The seat, reminiscent of an Eames design and imported from Italy, is a rounded piece of translucent plastic that “catches the light well,” says Morris. “I think there’s kind of an elegance about it.”

The seat can move up and down and swivel independently from the chair’s black aluminum base, which contains indentations that can be used as handgrips or footholds, and that enable other dancers to interact with the person in the chair.

The base obscures the chair’s four wheels so that “there’s no interference with costume or dress,” says Mark Rumsey, Morris’s designer and fabricator, who’s based in Southern California. The precise configuration of those wheels, combined with rollers on each tread, allow for the chair’s omnidirectional movement, which the user operates through a Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

When a user straps the phone to her back, for example, and leans in one direction, the phone’s motion sensors—a gyroscope, an accelerometer, and a magnetometer—collect data on her position and movement. “We’re tapping into the natural motion sensor technology that already exists in a phone,” says Morris.

A filtering algorithm cleans up the positional data, which is then relayed to sensors in the chair’s base, “where all the magic happens,” says Neil Edmonston, who did all the programming. After some quick, complex computing, the chair deciphers the sitter’s movement and mirrors it.

“For [the chair] to move, you have to move first,” says Edmonston, who runs a consulting service in Pensacola, Florida. But “it happens in such a short period of time that it looks seamless.”

The degree to which a user leans governs how quickly the chair rolls. “For instance, if I move a little bit, I’ll move slowly. If I lean more, I’ll move faster,” explains Edmonston. “So, it allows you to have a very intuitive and fully controllable type of movement.”

The Rolling Dance Chair also has an alternative mode: A bystander—say, a dancing partner—can operate it, either by tilting the phone or by tracing her hand across the phone’s screen, using it as a “touch-joystick kind of control,” says Morris.

Dancer Luca “Lazylegz” Patuelli tested that mode a couple weeks ago, when he was visiting USF for an integrative dance festival called A New Definition of Dance (which Morris founded). Lazylegz is a b-boy (what popular media often calls a breakdancer), and he incorporates crutches into his routines—he was born with arthrogryposis, which is characterized by limited range of motion in multiple joints.

While a partner operated the Rolling Dance Chair’s control, “I was doing some different designs and different angles using my crutches while I was moving,” he says.

Putting the control (quite literally) in a partner’s hands “adds a completely different element for a spectator, but also for the dancer themselves,” says Lazylegz. Not only do you have to trust your partner, “but you also have to trust the technology.”

Morris and her team are now working on a second prototype of the Rolling Dance Chair in the hopes that they’ll be able to license it commercially. “I’ve been in communication with several different wheelchair companies, and so we’re making progress that way from a business perspective,” she says.

Updates entail motorized height change and seat rotation (these features are manually operated in the current prototype), as well as a new set of wheels in an improved configuration that will ensure smoother, quieter rolling across uneven surfaces.

Dwayne Scheuneman, founder of REVolutions Dance, Inc., an inclusive dance company based in Tampa, has helped Morris test her chair since the beginning. Scheuneman, who has a spinal cord injury, prefers his manual wheelchair because it enables him to perform certain modern dance moves, such as tipping over to the floor and pushing back up again.

But for some dancers, he says, the Rolling Dance Chair could be the device they’ve been waiting for. “Any manual chair is not right for everybody. Any current power chair isn’t right for everybody. So, Merry Lynn’s Rolling Dance Chair, it isn’t going be right for everybody,” says Scheuneman. But “there are people who are going to love it, and it’s going to be so useful”—for dance, but potentially for everyday life, too, he says.

As Morris and other dancers explore the Rolling Dance Chair’s possibilities, they’ll add to a growing repertoire that people with disabilities have been experimenting with for a while.

“I do think that improvements can be made in the wheelchair and in other mobility devices for dance for peak performance, and especially if we want to get to higher levels of artistry,” says Morris, “but people are dancing in the things that they have, in the bodies that they have, and I’m very much a supportive advocate of people dancing however and in whatever creative modes they can.”

Article written by:  Julie Leibach

with love,  Merry Lynn Morris

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Year 2 ! "A New Definition of Dance" with Merry Lynn Morris Artistic Director / VSA of Florida Hosting 10/14-26/2016 Tampa-Miami-Jacksonville

Year 2 ! "A New Definition of Dance"
with Merry Lynn Morris Artistic Director

Integrated Dance Conference Saturday, October 22nd! An extension of "A New Definition of Dance" and part of the AXIS Dance Company National Convening on Physically Integrated Dance. University of South Florida, 9:30-5:30pm. FREE. Registration available at: . For Dance Educators, Choreographers, Teachers, VSA Teaching Artists, Dancers, and anyone interested in learning more about the field of physically integrated dance. ALSO FOLLOW THE LINK TO RESERVE FREE TICKETS TO THE DANCE PERFORMANCE !

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Latest Dance Chair Experimentation with Merry Lynn Morris

The Rolling Dance Chair continues to improve in design and development. I just experimented this weekend with it again, after having some programming upgrades performed with the engineer I work with in Pensacola, FL. ... Neil Edmonston.  The more movement and creative experimentation with different bodies, the better! I will look forward to working with power chair dancer, Frank Hull in June for more movement exploration in the studio! Frank has done some initial exploration with me in the past, as have dancers, Dwayne Scheuneman and Marcie Ryan with this prototype. Hope to have multiple chairs to work with one day, and more people using them! REVolutions Dance students Jessica and Bree Bree both worked with me and the chair yesterday - exploring new possibilities! The chair is wirelessly controlled, in which the control can be worn on the body or used remotely and the chair is omnidirectional and possesses height change. Many thanks to all who have supported this project and who are or have been involved in it! I first began the project in 2005 - a long, challenging trajectory to get to this point.  As a dance/arts practitioner, I have enjoyed the opportunity to challenge traditional design practices/outcomes and push into new territory of mobility appreciative of all!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Ripple Effects - Dance Concert

Live .... we are live~!

Ripple Dance Effects..  Dance Concert... With Jansen Dance and REVolutions Dance Students  Choreography by Merry Lynn Morris, with Cara Hazel and Calandre Kielich and Videography by Ariel Arts - His Sonshine...

Here is the background Ripple dance visual...

Here is the Full video during the live performance with video by Dean & Kari Buxton with Jansen Dance Company.... thank you so much Buxtons & Jansens..!

Super wonderful to our dancers ... thank you to all and especially parents and caregivers and dancers!

Much Love!

Merry Lynn Morris  & Sonshine

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

"Joy Ride" with Inventor Merry Lynn Morris ~ Reprint of Article from Inventors Digest ~

Direct Link to Inventors Digest "Joy Ride" with Merry Lynn Morris Article :

Click here to read article directly from ~ Inventors Digest  ~

Canadian breakdancer Luca “Lazylegz” Patuelli teaches
breakdancing as a disabled person to non-disabled people
at the University of South Florida during
A New Definition of Dance VSA event
with Artistic Director - Merry Lynn Morris in October 2015.
Renowned Chinese Classical Dancer Liu Yan, of the Bejing Dance Academy, performs in the omnidirectional hands-free wheelchair with Inventor Merry Lynn Morris and Dancer Cynthia Hardegree.
Liu Yan was chosen to perform a solo during the 2008 Bejing Olympics, but suffered a fall that resulted in
a spinal-cord injury two weeks before the games.
In 2005, Merry Lynn Morris approached the USF College of Engineering about designing a wheelchair that was propelled by the user’s body. After experimenting with Segways at the university, a firm in California built an entirely new prototype chair that incorporated all of Morris’ design ideas. Morris engaged in an intense collaboration with the company to bring the chair to fruition. Her work with dancers with and without disabilities helped shape the chair’s technological and aesthetic design. Pensacola developer Neil Edmonston has been working with Morris on the programming of the chair since it arrived at the university. I met Morris in 2014 at the USPTO Smithsonian Innovation Festival, where Morris and her chair were featured. Following, Morris explains why she created the wheelchair, the process she and her collaborators have gone through in the research and development of the chair, and why the wheelchair is so important.
Dancer Frank Hull tests the Dance Chair in front
of University of South Florida dance majors as
part of a dance & disability event directed by
Merry Lynn Morris in October 2015.

Liu Yan performs in "Concealing/Revealing"
Merry Lynn Morris frequently works with chairs
and other props in her choreography.

Merry Lynn Morris performs in her piece
Blood Matrix, which utilized sweeping fabric,
as well as Segways & the prototype Dance Chair.



New Wheelchair Offers Freedom of Movement and Expression


Many people have a friend, family member or loved one who has limited movement due to a physical disability. Some are born with disabilities, while others are struck by a debilitating disease, wounded during military service or are victims of tragic accidents. Being disabled, however, does not mean being dysfunctional. Modern technology has enabled those with even the most crippling of diseases to give joy to others while savoring life. Merry Lynn Morris’ life was affected by a tragic accident.

One day, her father, Bill, left the family home to run a quick errand and was in a head-on collision that left him using a wheelchair for 21 years. Morris’ experience with the family’s resulting struggle motivated her to create an omnidirectional, hands-free wheelchair that gives those constrained to wheelchairs the freedom and independence to move about in ways that most manual and powered wheel chairs do not allow. The first patent on the chair, U.S. Patent No. 7,748,490, involved seat tilting. It was issued on July 6, 2010 and assigned to the University of South Florida, where Morris is a faculty member of the School of Dance and Theater at the University of South Florida. Although the wheelchair was prompted by her father’s experience, Morris was inspired to begin work on the chair in 2000 after she saw a performance by Dancing Wheels, a professional dance company that includes dancers in wheelchairs. That’s when she and her mother began disassembling her father’s wheelchairs and wondering if clamps, sticks and pulls might make the chair move—maybe even dance.

In Her Words
In 2005, Morris approached the USF College of Engineering about designing a wheelchair that was propelled by the user’s body. After experimenting with Segways at the university, a firm in California built an entirely new prototype chair that incorporated all of Morris’ design ideas. Morris engaged in an intense collaboration with the company to bring the chair to fruition. Her work with dancers with and without disabilities helped shape the chair’s technological and aesthetic design. Pensacola developer Neil Edmonston has been working with Morris on the programming of the chair since it arrived at the university. I met Morris in 2014 at the USPTO Smithsonian Innovation Festival, where Morris and her chair were featured. Following, Morris explains why she created the wheelchair, the process she and her collaborators have gone through in the research and development of the chair, and why the wheelchair is so important.

“The idea for the rolling dance/mobility chair emerged from two distinct motivations. One was my experience as a caregiver to my father for 21 years. The automobile accident he was involved in left him with permanent brain damage, a seizure disorder and significant issues of paralysis. For our family, it meant completely restructuring our lives. My mom, who is my hero and perpetual inspiration, cared for him with an unwavering sense of commitment and hope. She always looked for creative ways to improve the situation for our family, working toward embracing the new reality and moving forward. She is a visual artist, and her artistic inclinations and ability to think outside of the box helped heal our family and get us through many challenges. She inspired my creativity with regard to re-conceptualizing the design of wheelchairs. Seeing her perspective as spouse and primary caregiver provided me with an important perspective on addressing disability issues as a whole interactive, human and social condition. Disability affects everyone. We are all only temporarily “abled.” Many times, in design, the focus becomes solely on the disabled person’s needs as an independent, autonomous being, not taking into account the surrounding family, caregivers, friends and community who interact and want to connect with that person’s life. The second motivation came from my work as a choreographer and teacher of individuals with disabilities. In working with many people in wheelchairs, I began to conceive of design ideas for the chair that might be more conducive for the dance experience and enable additional interactive movement and expressive possibilities. In dance, we are generally concerned with movement precision and quality/texture—the “how” of the movement, not just the goal of the movement, such as transporting a body in space from one destination to the next. When considering the wheelchair from a dance design perspective, a host of other priorities came to the forefront in terms of facilitating movement quality/texture. In particular, I noticed that the control system for most traditional chairs— hand-to-wheel propulsion or hand-to-joystick propulsion— generally restricted other options for hand/arm use in space. There were other missing movement dynamics that I wanted to create in the chair to enable a three-dimensional experience of space. Adding height control, omnidirectionality and seat rotation, as well as a mobile control system created new three-dimensional movement dynamics. I continue to look for ways to enhance the motion dynamics of the device and create intuitive, organic means of controlling them with the human body. The chair’s development, in some ways, is not unlike other types of technological extensions, such as pointe shoes, tap shoes and aerial silks, used in dance to enhance movement experience. The experimentation process has consistently involved multiple perspectives, and a variety of individuals with and without disabilities have tested the existing prototype chair to provide input and feedback.”

Science and Art Merge
“One of my concerns in developing the device has been with the ways in which the wheelchair facilitates an individual’s longterm health. As a dance/movement practitioner with a kinesiology and movement science background, I constantly look at human movement experience with both art and science lenses. I worked for two years at an assisted living facility developing movement programming for the residents. The chairs they utilized (often traditional manual chairs) did not assist in their circulation by stimulating or enabling movement, or supporting healthy postural positions. Instead, the individuals were usually hunched over. Their heads dropped down, and they sagged into their chairs. In the development of the rolling dance/mobility chair, I have sought to embrace health (posture/alignment/circulation/conditioning effects) and artistry (movement quality/dynamics, expressive relational interaction) with those of a social and functional nature. Consider that in many care-giving situations, the spouse, friend and/or caregiver stands behind the individual, pushing the chair. Power chair controls are also at the back of the chair. This makes human communication virtually impossible. It also distorts the relationship psychophysically. Try talking or relating to someone who is behind you much of the time. It does not work very well. One goal of the dance/mobility chair was to try to facilitate human relational interactions, such as walking side-by-side holding hands and talking/interacting in a seamless manner. The mobile (smartphone) control, which can be worn on the body (making the individual hands-free) or held easily in one hand by the caregiver or individual, helps restore relationships.”

Height Matters
“Another point of emphasis is the importance of height control in wheelchairs. The implementation of height control raises the disabled individual to a higher level of stature—literally. Being in a seated position means being looked “down upon” by most standing individuals (and having elbows thrust in your face, etc.). Height change became of paramount importance in the design of this wheelchair for restoring eye contact between individuals, as well as helping basic tasks, such as reaching. Additionally, it enables the natural greeting exchange of hugging to happen more easily. When a person is lowered in space in a seated position, hugging the individual usually becomes a more awkward and less fulfilling experience for both individuals. There are many power chairs with height control; however, the critical importance of a feature such as this from a psychosocial perspective has yet to be fully embraced as an absolute design necessity. I think the main focus of the problem-solving or innovating
process has been to broadly and simultaneously consider human mobility from a creative, artistic, social and relational perspective. This recognizes the importance of the human movement experience as a critical formative force in shaping the identity and quality of an individual’s life.

Path of Experimentation
I first began the project by ordering Segways and looking for ways in which seats could possibly be mounted to them. At the time (2005/2006), Segway technology was one of the closest existing technologies I found that could enable individuals to be “handsfree” by simply leaning their bodies to direct the motion of the device. Innovation and experimentation processes are rarely, if ever, linear in nature. My path of experimentation has involved multiple collaborators. Many rough-draft prototypes emerged before realizing the more complete design in the current prototype chair. Of course, the innovation process, like the choreographic process, is never really done. Once something has been created, there is a natural instinct to reflect upon its potential improvement and consider other embellishments and possibilities. In this manner, the chair, as a product, will never be finished; it will continue to evolve and be shaped by those who utilize it in different ways. An original rough-draft prototype came to fruition in 2007.  It involved placing a sensory apparatus underneath the seat, and when the seat tilted, the chair moved. Therefore, when a person’s weight shifted forward in the seat, the seat would tilt, and the chair would move forward. The person essentially acted as a joystick in the seat. This early prototype did not incorporate other goals for the design, but it did create a first step toward making the individual potentially hands-free in the chair. Initially, I worked with students and faculty in the College of Engineering to build this early chair prototype.  Due to my development of the chair project within the University, the Office of Patents and Licensing at USF was a very helpful resource. I worked closely with representatives from the office as the chair technology developed. I came to understand issues of intellectual property protection and the function of patents from them. An initial patent filing occurred soon after the first prototype was developed, and forthcoming patents have been filed in a similar fashion. I (with my collaborators) now have two design patents: (U.S. Patent Nos. D642,962 and D719,071) and two utility patents (U.S. Patent Nos. 7,748,490 and 9,027,678). The most recent ones are more relevant to the current existing prototype. During 2012, significant progress was made on the chair project. I worked with companies in California and Florida to develop the chair with my design goals and specifications. This collaboration resulted in the current chair prototype, which was featured at the Smithsonian’s Innovation Festival. This chair embodies the hands-free/mobile wireless control with omnidirectional wheels and many other features to expand movement potential. It is the first prototype to embody the majority of design goals. I was able to arrive at this point with the chair with the help of USF internal grants, an external award (Thatcher Hoffman Smith Award) and a few small donations.”

Successful Journey:
Although Bill Morris died decades after his accident, he did get to see his daughter’s invention take shape. A series of dance performances at USF featured an early prototype of the rolling dance chair. Today, Morris continues to refine the chair to increase its ease of transportability, fluid responsiveness, smooth transport and customizability. She and her collaborators are experimenting with different motor drives and lighterweight materials. They are refining programmatic options, adding independent wheel suspension and addressing user-interface differences. The chair is still in developmental stages, but Morris hopes to move toward commercialization in the near future. She is working with wheelchair industry partners Quantum Mobility and National Seating and Mobility to develop the chair into a robust, consumer ready device.

Donations to fund the project can be made at:

University of South Florida Foundation (tax deductible):
GoFundMe Fundraising Website
"A Wheel Chair For Dance": 

Renée C. Quinn is the CEO and director of marketing and public relations for She is also a public speaker, educator and consultant.
{This article was reprinted by permission}

Friday, January 22, 2016

International Showcase Dance Concert Video Excerpts - A New Definition of Dance

Here are the video excerpts from the first (SOLD OUT!) "New Definition of Dance" International Showcase Dance Concert last October 16, 2015.  We are planning for a second incredible dance week for 2016 which will again be hosted, presented and sponsored by:   VSA Florida, University of South Florida and the Rolling Dance Chair Project...... See you there!

The first video is a 7 minute excerpt.  The second video is a 3 minute excerpt.  Both are basically identical and they include each Dance Artist featured from the "New Definition of Dance" week conference / teaching / workshop / performance (10/ 14-17 /2015).  The 7 minute excerpt shows more from each Dance Artist.

VSA 7 Minute International Showcase Dance Concert Video Excerpts:

VSA 3 Minute International Showcase Dance Concert Video Excerpts:

A spectacular dance week!  And we look forward to more and for year two!

Best and love to everyone !

Merry Lynn Morris  (& Sonshine)