Giving the arts to our kids…

So here we sit in the middle of central Pennsylvania, where there is this strange phenomenon called Penn State Football about to occur tomorrow. Growing up in Chicago, I am well aware of the power an exciting team (Bears, Bulls, Cubbies… you name it) can have on a well-intentioned society. However, what I fail to comprehend is how the fervor extends down to the elementary grades, sucking the proverbial life out of so many other things that COULD BE in this region.

For example, State College Area High School has an amazing Fine & Performing Arts program, but somehow anyone who is good enough knows that they have to leave the area to actually succeed. Local club, restaurant and bar owners are obviously slaves to the college crowd, settling for crowd-pleasing drinking songs, bad DJ’s and few legitimate musicians.

In the Penns Valley School District (where we live), the arts programs come last on the priority list. Despite well-intentioned faculty and kids who love what they do, football comes first. Even the funds raised by productions done by the thespians get dumped into a general school fund that inevitably is dumped into something having to do with sports.

Don’t get me wrong – there is no greater man than JoePa. My point is merely that I don’t know how to look at my students and even my own sons and tell them that they just simply cannot participate in the dance world in meaningful way if they live here in good ol‘ “Happy Valley”.

This weekend (November 10th), I will host international tap diva Roxane Butterfly at my academy, teaching master classes, performing and showing her film HOOFALOGIES. My students will be there, worshipping the ground she walks on… but the community around them remains oblivious. She will be dancing on a middle school stage, despite being one of the première female tap dancers on the international scene. You won’t find her at Eisenhower Auditorium or even the “community-focused” State Theater. What a blessing that she is a dear friend and has agreed to perform in an intimate setting – understanding the need to educate ALL communities.

My hope is that people open their eyes. For those curious adventurers who want to mine the depths of the dance world, the invitation is extended to you… Saturday, November 10th Roxane will appear in concert at Mount Nittany Middle School and will not only show her film (recently showcased at Cinema Etoile in France), but will also join us for a VIP post-performance party at SOZO’s on Beaver Avenue… the one place I’ve found that might really make a difference for kids in this town.

Kids will be there with her on stage – as young as eleven years old, my students will experience the thrill of dancing with a master. Kids will be playing jazz at the club afterwards – polishing their chops and jamming with a mind-boggling percussive dance genius.

Come dig with us and let’s change the face of dance in central Pennsylvania forever.


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