The value of a life fully lived was the theme of this year’s Hats Off to Dance performances by Mary Jo’s Performing Arts Academy, and the focus of the show was a 9-year-old dancer who understands that lesson well. Abbie Grace Flohr lives and dances wearing a medical appliance known as a port and has three medical tubes in her body that deliver nutrients and medications to treat several chronic illnesses. She has been to hospitals more than 100 times and traveled to doctors all over the country for treatments. But when it’s showtime, she does more than just show up. For Abbie Grace, as she is known, dancing is the best medicine.
“It makes me feel happy, joyful, and I feel like I can let go of all the pain and medical stuff,” she said.
Her mother, Cheryl Flohr, says Abbie’s resolve to not be defined or limited by disease is remarkable, citing her volunteer work for the Make-A-Wish foundation in addition to maintaining a rigorous commitment to performing.
She’s been inspirational to me and it impresses me that she always wants to leave her mark,” she said.
Abbie’s impact on people who know her was evident in this year’s Hats Off to Dance production, titled “The Ultimate Gift.” Dance performances revolved around conversational vignettes between a young girl on the cusp of adulthood (portrayed by Courtney Mastrorio) and her grandmother (Samantha Mirabal) who had learned plenty from experience and receiving life’s gifts, such as family and friends, love, problems, and giving.
Dancers performed routines ranging from Broadway to ballet with the tight precision and high-energy approach that characterizes the studio’s training and productions.
Video clips detailing the medical challenges Abbie has faced were integrated into the storyline and the audience could witness for themselves her passion for dancing as she performed to songs ranging from “What a Wonderful World” to “Livin’ la Vida Loca.”
Abbie has been dancing with Mary Jo’s Performing Arts Academy since she was 3 years old, but getting the opportunity to dance was a challenge in itself, according to her mother.
“I called all the dance studios in the area, and none of the other dance studios got back to me,” Flohr said. She expressed appreciation for her daughter’s instructors and their willingness to be flexible. “Every modification they can do to make it possible for her to dance, they do,” she said. “Without dance, my daughter wouldn’t be where she is.”
Sometimes that means taking the dance lesson beyond the academy’s rehearsal space, according to administrator Kristin Scanio. “Some of our teachers go into the hospital when Abbie Grace has longer hospital stays, to teach and make sure she knows her dances,” she said.
Mary Jo Scanio is the owner and artistic director of Mary Jo’s Performing Arts Academy. She says making it possible for someone to achieve goals as a person as well as a performer has been an important part of her business since opening her studio in 1978. “It’s so much more than dance has been a statement I have believed in since I started teaching,” she said. “The performing arts gives our students the vehicle to find their inner voice, explore their creativity, build confidence, overcome fears and learn life lessons that help mold them into successful young adults. My mission has and always will be to share my passion for the arts and make a difference in this world one child at a time.”
Besides telling Abbie’s story as part of the 36th annual Hats Off to Dance production, Scanio is promoting a GoFundMe account on her studio’s Facebook page to help the Flohr family with medical expenses. You can learn more about Abbie by visiting the GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/abbie gracefund. To find out what’s going on at Mary Jo’s Performing Arts Academy, visit mjpaa.com.