Ballet company in old neighborhood ultimate goal for Tucsonan Rodgers
When Joseph Rodgers was growing up in Tucson’s South Park neighborhood, it seemed to him he had two options: drugs or basketball.
His mother saw another way, a thin line of hope drawn with pointed toes on hardwood floors: classical ballet.
Rodgers enrolled in classes and, by age 17, he was divorced from gangbangers and married to the San Francisco Ballet School.
“I was one of the lucky ones,” Rodgers said June 6 at the Tucson Regional Town Hall. “I got out.”
The 45-year-old Rodgers stayed out for nearly 30 years, returning to Tucson last summer to care for his elderly father.
He teaches 24 ballet classes a week through the city of Tucson Parks & Recreation Department, parlaying his performance years with companies such as Ballet Chicago and the Sacramento (Calif.) Ballet into practical skills for 3- to 12-year-olds.
Like many, Rodgers believes the arts hold salvation for certain people, especially young men with too much time on their hands and too many negative forces in their neighborhoods.
So when people were asked at the Town Hall for solutions to the region’s challenges, Rodgers told his story and said he would offer a year of free ballet lessons to any child from Tucson’s South Side.
The devil, of course, is in the details – in this case, finding a dance space easily accessible to the demographic Rodgers wants to reach.
A spontaneous lesson he gave last summer in the streets of the old ‘hood was a fine jumping-off point, but pliés and battement tendus cannot be done long-term on hot asphalt.
Rodgers headed to Quincie Douglas Neighborhood Center and hit a brick wall.
“They have a dance room,” Rodgers said last week after one of the classes he teaches at Randolph Regional Community Center. “But it is being used for preschool. I found myself arguing about why a dance floor should be used for dance.”
He also checked out some of the downtown arts venues but came up empty-handed.
“The venues the city has talked about for artists are not dance space,” said Rodgers’ fiancee, Soleste Lupu, who has joined him in the project. “One thing we’ve realized is that when we talk about space for the arts in Tucson, what dancers need is different from what other artists need.”
Finally, Rodgers approached the 36th Street Holmes Tuttle branch of the local Boys & Girls Clubs and reached a tentative agreement, contingent upon paperwork being filed, that the club will donate a basketball court for dance lessons.
Kids taking the lessons will need to belong to the clubs. Rodgers is setting up a scholarship fund to cover the $5 per child annual dues.
Rodgers hopes that classes can begin after Labor Day, and he already has one potential student. After last summer’s South Park ballet demonstration, a friend complained.
“She said, ‘Joey, you just messed it up for me. My son don’t want to play football or soccer no more. He just wants to dance,’ ” Rodgers explained.
“My ultimate goal is to start a ballet company with kids from the South Side. I want to give them an avenue for expression and show there’s more to life than the streets.”
If you’d like to help with Rodgers’ project, he needs dance barres, dancewear, ballet shoes and portable mirrors. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, with “Dancing in the Streets” in the subject line.
My Tucson blog: Read about Renée Schafer Horton’s work to get more books into the hands of Ochoa Elementary School kids.
Renée Schafer Horton is a freelance writer specializing in education, religion and family issues. Visit her blog at www.losingourreligion.blogspot.com.