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New Scholarship Honors Dance Teaching Legend
The legacy of one of Oklahoma’s favorite dance teachers will forever be preserved in a new endowed scholarship fund being established at Oklahoma City University. The scholarship will honor Marcella Patterson, who touched thousands of young lives at her Woodward studio.
A veteran of World War II and the Korean War, Patterson’s determination was perhaps her most endearing trait. At a time when single women experienced great difficulty in borrowing money from a bank, Patterson launched Rhythm Alley Dance School.
Jane Boone Pelley remembers standing in class watching her teacher craft challenging routines, demand diligence, inspire perfection and draw laughter with her impeccable sense of humor.
Decades later, Pelley still carries with her the life lessons she picked up from the beloved Patterson. A desire to share Patterson’s gift with the next generation recently inspired Pelley to lead an effort to establish a new scholarship at Oklahoma City University’s Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Arts Management. The Marcella Patterson Endowed Dance Teacher Scholarship honors Patterson’s commitment to the thousands of students she taught during a career that spanned more than 60 years.
Patterson passed away in February at the age of 93, but her memory continues to thrive.
“Marcella was one of those unique people who brings out the best in students,” Pelley recalled. “She simply had a way about her that made you want to do well. She was brash, direct, funny, organized, impossible on occasion and there was nothing we wouldn’t do for her.”
Pelley said Patterson’s strength and resourcefulness always were evident. In addition to reworking costumes fromyear to year and creating inventive themes and scenery for recitals, Patterson made her own repairs around her house and maintained her car.
“She could do anything,” Pelley said, adding that her time at Rhythm Alley has had a positive and lasting impact on her life.
“I have always had some type of dance in my life, either through college classes, aerobics or now even Zumba,” she said. “I go to exercise classes, stand up straight, look at myself in the mirror and think of Marcella.”
Patterson’s nephew, Bill Patterson, said dance students and their families travelled from a variety of towns, some of them from far away and at great expense to study with Marcella.
“Some mothers valued Aunt Marcella’s discipline principles which were carved in the Army Air Corps in WWII and Women in the Air Force in Korea,” Bill said. “Others valued her work ethics and teaching kids not only how to dance, but manners, hygiene, respect and manyother things.”
One popular class at Rhythm Alley was “Ballet for Football Players,” which attracted dozens of Woodward High School athletes who practiced coordination, leaping and strength exercise.
Marcella Patterson’s niece, Sally Patterson Bradbury, said Rhythm Alley enhanced the culture of Western Oklahoma.
“Marcella gave (her students) a broader, richer and more meaningful life through the arts, which I think for many people was a chance to experience a world far beyond a small farming community,” Sally said.
Pelley stayed in contact with Patterson who, after retirement, attended dance productions at Oklahoma City University with her family.
“She would tell me about the shows and how wonderful they were. She appreciated the talent of the students and theinstructors at OCU,” Pelley said. Pelley recently visited with her friend Jane Jayroe Gamble, an OCU alumna and trustee, about honoring Patterson through a scholarship at OCU. “When I found out about the degree program for dance teachers, I knew it was a perfect fit and that Marcella would have loved it.”
“I loved and admired Marcella from the first time I met her,” said OCU Dance Department Chairwoman Jo Rowan. “I was a ballet master teacher at an Oklahoma Dance Masters convention. I remember her sparkling, intelligent eyes and the joyful curiosity she brought to theballet classes I taught. She was impressive – a dedicated teacher and a beautiful, generous lady. We were friends for decades. I am delighted that the scholarship endowment in her name will both honor her life’s work as a dance teacher and will make it possible for our dance teacher majors to follow in her inspiring footsteps. ”
Pelley said the scholarship will allow Patterson’s former students to pass along her gift to a new generation of dance teachers.
“I hope it will be a chance for us to join in a grand finale for this very special woman by keeping her gift alive,” Pelley said. “I hope that her story will inspire OCU students today who want to teach dance.”
Bradbury said she is proud of the dance community that’s honoring Patterson.
“Marcella had a strength of character and determination that was a necessity growing up in hard times – the Dust Bowl, depression, war and harsh living conditions. The family together worked hard to survive and to even celebrate life through arts and teaching,” she said. “Marcella never doubted what she was doing was the right direction for her and for those she taught. This scholarship will allow some fortunate students those chances to seize their passion and follow their dreams. That is the highestaccomplishment any teacher can receive.”
For more information about the Marcella Patterson Endowed Dance Teacher Scholarship and how to contribute, contact John Hillis at (405) 208-5120 or jrhillis@okcu.edu.