Chattanoogan: Katie Ricketts – Respect For Dance

Saturday, August 10, 2013 - by Jen Jeffrey

Today’s society can point young girls toward an unhealthy body image, especially when it comes to ballet. Katie Ricketts hopes to insure that her dance students start out with the right body image, but also to be respectful of their body when using dance as a way to express themselves.

When Katie was a little girl, she loved playing school with her grandmother and mother and would play the role of the teacher. Little did she know that she would grow up to become a teacher.

Katie teaches full time at Siskin Children's Institute on Gunbarrel Road as well as teaching dance at Bayside Baptist Church.

Her passion started young when her mother Tammy took her to a festival and Katie was dancing away to Charlie Daniels. “I had the best childhood ever. My family has always supported me in anything I wanted to do,” Katie says.

Katie was very active as a child, playing soccer, softball, taking gymnastics and cheerleading, but she didn’t begin dance until she was in the seventh grade.

“I used to want to be a singer and a dancer, then I changed my interests to be a doctor or vet, but dancing came back to me and I love teaching dance now,” Katie says.

She took jazz and hip hop classes at Ginger Brown’s Dance Academy and, while attending a semester of high school at Ooltewah, she was in color guard. Katie then attended Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts (CCA) as a dance major.

“That was when my passion really developed,” Katie says. She trained at Chattanooga Ballet Company through her 20s. Katie attended Chattanooga State to earn her teaching degree and will teach three and a half year olds at Siskin.

In 2011, Katie approached Tom Watson, the former music minister at Bayside, and pitched her idea to hold dance classes for young girls. She asked why there were opportunities at Bayside for those who wanted to study vocally or instrumentally, but not for dance.

Bayside reaches out to the community providing all types of activities and classes held at the campus.

Katie has witnessed a few people in churches who felt that dance was inappropriate for young girls. Katie wanted to bring dance in the church to show others what suitable dance is and how God gave the gift of dance as well as voice and instruments.

“I wanted to teach little girls that you can dance and it doesn’t have to be the vulgar style of dance that you see on television,” Katie says.

“I will train them in dance, but I ultimately want to help them realize that they can be an amazing dancer and use their dance for the glory of God. It is easy to get caught up in ourselves and our abilities, but if it wasn’t for God - they wouldn’t have that ability,” Katie insists.

Before each class, Katie begins with prayer and involves her students in the message behind the music. Katie chooses Christian music to dance to basically because the performances are held at the church, but also to share a positive message with the girls.

She will engage them by asking what the song means that they are dancing to. Doing that brings the dance alive for the girls and they stay focused on using their body and what they are expressing with it. “That’s what makes it different than just a regular dance studio,” Katie says.

She began teaching four-year-olds up to 12-year-olds, but has expanded her classes now from four and up, teaching youth/adults. “I am the only teacher for now, but we are starting to get bigger and have more classes. Soon I will have to enlist help,” Katie maintains.

When it comes to body image, Katie admits that there is real pressure by society for girls to be thin, but she never really had a problem with that.

“If I tried to dance for NYC Ballet or Atlanta Ballet, I am sure there would be a lot of pressure, but my family helped me through any stress I may have faced growing up. There were times I had been told by peers that I had a big rear-end and …I knew I wasn’t one of the skinniest girls, but my family assured me it was muscle. After high school, I wasn’t dancing as much and I dropped 15 pounds – it was muscle that I dropped because I wasn’t dancing as much. That reassured me a lot,” Katie says.

“People think the theater/ballet girl is supposed to be stick thin, but that is not true. If you were to see the dancers that I graduated with, you would see that they are slender but not skinny – they have muscle. NYC ballet is the same – they aren’t just a bean pole, it is muscle and they are solid as a rock,” Katie asserts.

Katie tries to point out to her students that each of them are built differently and to embrace that. “I recently had a girl tell me that she didn’t have the body to be a dancer. I tried to explain to her that she was gorgeous and if she wanted to be a dancer - that is what she could be,” Katie says.

With balancing a healthy body image, Katie also wants to stress to people that dance is a positive thing. Being in a Christian atmosphere, Katie has come across a few people who would think dance is wrong or not proper to bring into the church.

“I never put anything in the routines that is inappropriate. A lot of people are worried about their daughters taking dance because of dance moves they see on television that are questionable,” Katie says. “I try to get across to my girls that they can look cute when they dance with certain poses they do in hip hop, but to be careful not to cross the line of what is fitting especially for their age.”

Katie has had a good response from everyone at Bayside and her community because of her caution in how she instructs the girls to behave with their bodies.

“You can send people the wrong message, especially when we dance in church. When we dance, we are honoring God and we want people in the congregation to know that. If a girl is out there dancing ‘tasteless’ she is not valuing herself as she should be. It is my hope to encourage girls to respect themselves,” Katie says.

Sometimes, the older girls talk to her about their relationships and Katie emboldens them with positive feedback. Katie has been a good role model and her students look up to her. 

When Katie isn’t busy teaching, she enjoys various activities that are fun to her. She won the title of Miss Chattanooga (with the Miss USA Organization) and went on to compete for the 2013 title of Miss Tennessee  which was won by Brenna Mader.

When the production crew of ‘Scary Movie 5’ came to Atlanta to film, Katie tried out as an extra in the dance scenes. The movie was a spoof of ‘The Black Swan’. “I got to meet Ashley Tisdale and Heather Locklear - it was really fun,” she says and quips, “I haven’t even been to see it yet.”

Though she has had offers to perform elsewhere, all concerts are held at Bayside with recitals in the spring and winter, incorporated with the School of Performing Arts (SPA).

“I would love for our classes to perform in other places, but my focus right now is in the church because a lot of people feel dance is not fitting for church and I want to encourage people that it is. If our moves are appropriate and we are focused on glorifying God and to use the gift He gave us, why can’t we praise Him like vocalist praise Him in singing or instrumentalist praise him with music?” Katie pleads, “It clearly said in the Bible that David had danced for the Lord – so why can’t we?”

For more information visit Katie’s website at: http://balletforjesus.com/

jen@jenjeffrey.com




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