By Roger Lee for The Dance Journal
I believe that the future of dance lies in the hands of our youth– the future funders, administrators, and practitioners of dance. However, many youth are not experiencing dance in school thanks to painful arts education budget cuts. I believe that non-profit dance organizations have a responsibility to educate youth through quality outreach programs. One outstanding dance outreach program is RockReach.
“In 2000, The Rock School for Dance Education’s Directors Bo and Stephanie Spassoff created a program for the youth of Philadelphia, that are missing many important aspects of their development and growth as children,” explains RockReach Manager and Faculty Christina Pastras Patchell. The growing program now reaches approximately 15,000 school-aged children each year.
“How many people wake up in the morning and say that they truly love what they do for a living? Every night when I go to sleep and every morning when I wake up, I feel blessed, happy, and excited that I get to work for The Rock School for Dance Education and manage their outreach program RockReach,” admits Christina. “I love to see the excitement of the children on dance day. As soon as I walk into the building, I can feel the energy. I receive more hugs, smiles, and words of appreciation on any given day, then most people receive in their entire life,” says Christina. She describes the fulfilling experience of watching her dance students transform over the course of the school year. “I get to experience with them their first time going to the Theater, their first performance as a dancer, and their first dance class.”
RockReach exposes young children to the wondrous world of the arts, dance, and their own potential.
“The lessons learned in RockReach go beyond physical fitness, self discipline, self-esteem, team work, analytical thinking and learning to dance,” says The Rock School Director and President Bo Spassoff. “The children gain a sense of their potential, help each other and experience a joy in hard work. Some students will come “full circle” by going through the various parts of RockReach and coming back to teach the very children they once were.”
RockReach employs dedicated, talented dance educators that want to make a lasting impact on the children in the program. Director Stephanie Spassoff states, “The Rock Reach faculty engenders an enthusiasm and love of dance, in particular ballet, but also other forms of dance.” The RockReach faculty members are invested in the lives of their students. They want to get involved and teach more than just dance. They are interested in teaching their students life skills that extend well beyond the dance studio.
The magic of RockReach lies in its multi-faceted approach to dance education for inner-city youth. The program does more than just teach dance. RockReach offers The City Dance Program with scholarships for promising young students to train at The Rock School. The program allows 1800 school children to watch the annual RockReach Nutcracker 1776 performance at The Merriam Theater. “This performance is special because it is danced by children their own age. It shows them with hard work and dedication, you can achieve your dreams,” adds Christina. Rock Reach includes field trips to The Rock School and Dynamics of Dance Assemblies where students learn about different dance styles, they get a chance to ask questions of the talented international dancers at The Rock School, and watch a performance. RockReach also has a Residency component. Christina explains, “We go into low income, Title 1 schools and teach dance classes for 36 weeks from grades K-12. Every school is unique and so are our customized school programs.”
While RockReach has had a strong history, it has an even brighter future. One major goal for the community outreach program is expansion. “My goal is to continue to find ways to grow and expand RockReach. There are numerous schools in the area that are on our wait list due to funding needs,” says Christina. “We need to bring awareness to programs like RockReach and continue to find funders for our program. It is essential for our city’s school system.” Directors Bo and Stephanie Spassoff would like to see RockReach expand into more schools and develop even further in existing school partnerships. Bo adds “The goals are to further enrich and even change the lives of the children we reach. The RockReach approach that includes wonderful music, athleticism, team-building and performing opportunities makes ballet an easily and enthusiastically engaging program.”
For more information and videos about RockReach, visit http://www.therockschool.org/rockreach