Reading, writing, arithmetic and … Dance

Published 7:33 pm Friday, October 13, 2023

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Patti Rutland Simpson founder of Patti Rutland Jazz would beg to differ with those who think, or honestly believe, that dancing has no place in today’s schools. In fact, she said more schools need to have dance programs as part of their curriculum.

And, Dr. Mark Bazzell, superintendent of Pike County Schools agrees. So, today, thanks to a partnership between the Pike County Schools and Patti Rutland Jazz. PRJ and the Pike County Schools joined together to have dance and the students are loving it. Dance is an outlet for some and an inlet for others.

“I was shy; now I dance,” said Jeremy Brantley, fourth grader at Pike County Elementary School.

“Dancing make me feel good, joyful.” Aniya Wheeler said. “I’m happy when I dance.”

Patti Rutland Simpson said, in 2005, the professional dance company she founded was invited to a concert at the Alvin Ailey City Group Theater. It was there that she found out about the tremendous outreach program the theater had for kids, who could not afford dance, and the positive effect it had on their lives.

“I thought if it worked there, it would work anywhere.” Simpson said. I have seen a tremendous return in children’s lives when you invest in the arts.  We owe it to the children. These children we are teaching today will be the very ones that will grow up and pass on their love of the arts to the next generation. I take that very seriously.”

Simpson said the most immediate change she sees in children who are involved in dance is smiles.

“Those first couple of weeks, the kids are curious and cautious,” Simpson said. “For some of them, they’ve never had any exposure to the arts.  Then the students figure out that music is cool, that movement is fun, the dance teachers are energetic, and they tap into a creative energy that brings joy to their faces and to the faces of the children.  The next thing you know, you see a little more confidence and, shortly after that, the dancer appears and a whole new world is opened for him or her to explore.”

Simpson said not every child is going to achieve straight A’s or play sports.

“For some kids, the arts will be what speaks to them, what inspires them, and what helps them make better decisions for their lives.”

The partnership between PRJ and the Pike County schools was made it possible for dance to be introduced in the elementary schools in Brundidge, Banks and Goshen. Simpson said the support of Dr. Mark Bazzell, superintendent of Pike County Schools made the partnership possible.

“Within the first five minutes of explaining the PRJ Arts and Innovation vision for Pike County, Dr. Bazzell said that was something like the Pike County Schools had been waiting for a long time. We are honored to partner with the Pike County Board of Education and look forward to many years of bringing the arts into the lives of these children.”

Rodney Drish, PCES principal, said adding Patty Rutland dance to Pike County Elementary School has been a game changer for his students.

The opportunity for dance instruction has given the students the chance to be exposed to dance and the arts once a week,” Drish said. “Last year, we had dance instruction only once a week. Our students are excited about dance and look forward to dance class and it’s all thanks to Dr. Bazzell for his vision of exposing our students to the arts.’