In June 2007, I wrote a column about a young Tucsonan who had come back from traveling the states to open a dance studio in Tucson’s South Park neighborhood. Joseph Rodgers had attended a Tucson Town Hall that summer where there was plenty of hand-wringing about what was wrong with Tucson but not a whole lot of people stepping up with concrete answers to the question, “What can YOU do to fix Tucson?”
Rodgers, a professional ballet dancer who had come home to Tucson to care for his elderly father, stood up, in a big way, and said he’d offer a year of free ballet lessons to any kid from the impoverished South Side. The 40-something African-American had no studio at the time and no business plan. What he had was gumption and a dream to help kids the way he had been helped by dance.
And now, receiving the Christmas letter from Dancing in the Streets Arizona, I just want to squeeze his cheeks and say, “You go!” Rodgers (who, with his wife Soleste, is still a volunteer with DISAZ) now has a dance studio, a board of directors, 141 students, and, I’m betting, lots of happiness. Next weekend, after your Christmas happenings, you can go see his troupe of youngsters perform at Pima Community College in the Nutcracker.
This is the thing that got me most in the letter: One of the current students came to DITSAZ to complete court-ordered community service. After helping last Christmas with the Nutcracker performance, he decided he wanted to dance, and began taking lessons. He follows the rules (discipline is a big part of dance, and a big part of Rodgers’ program), dances several days a week and is learning to lift weights so he can develop the strength to partner with female dancers safely (doing all those lifts and holds takes muscle). He got a job to pay for his ballet shoes and brought his grades up enough at school so he could join the band. He’s hooked on performing as a musician and a dancer – not hooked on drugs or performing as a gang member. He is succeeding, he will graduate high school, and maybe, with Rodgers’ mentorship, go to college.
All because one guy stood up and committed to making a tangible difference for a part of Tucson that normally only gets noticed for its crime rates. You go, Joey, and I hope to see the result of your love and dedication on Dec. 26!