Southwest Tennessee Community College

June 24, 2004

CONTACTS: Kimberly Stark, (901) 333-4023 or Pat O'Brien, (901) 333-4021

Dancing with Distinction on the World Stage:

The standards are set by the Royal Academy of Dance (R.A.D) in London. Professional and student ballet dancers worldwide benchmark themselves on the R.A.D. syllabus, used by the most respected ballet companies and schools in 85 countries.

And so do Dynisha Lee, Takeisha Washington, Journie Pewitt, and other students in the Dance Works, Inc. dance program, housed at Southwest Tennessee Community College in Memphis. Dynisha, 17, has been in the program for two years; Takeisha, 13, for four years; and Journie, 8, for three years.

"Scoring levels are Pass, Merit and Distinction. A couple of students got Pass, most got Merit, and three Dynisha, Takeisha and Journie made the Distinction level," states Karen Zissoff, founder and executive director of Dance Works. The three designations conform roughly to A, B and C grades, with students achieving the Distinction level performing well above expectations for their age, years in the program, and pre-defined individual goals plan.

Zissoff said grades this year are in line with achievements of previous years, citing the high motivation of her students. "Many of them (students) are from low-income families for whom the program is a rare opportunity to receive instruction from internationally certified teachers of dance." Grading is done by teams of ballet professionals who travel to every school offering the R.A.D. program.

Goals are defined for each individual student at the beginning of the year, and grading designations are based on an international percentile of all students in R.A.D. programs. A complex set of technical standards are assessed, grading is based on achievements against them. Students graded with "pass" fall into the 40th to 55th percentile, students graded "merit" are in the 56th to 74th percentile, and students achieving "distinction" are in the 75th to 100th percentile.

Dance Works is a not-for-profit program, founded in 1987 and housed for the last 10 years at Southwest's Union Avenue Campus. Its mission is "to enrich through dance the lives of children who are underserved in the arts." Funding from the Memphis Arts Council, along with other contributions, helps to pay scholarships for many students who could not otherwise participate. Students are four years old through college age.

The R.A.D. children's exam is accredited in England, Ireland and Scotland, and soon to be in Europe, to allow students in high school to receive credit that goes on their transcripts for their work in dance. Many high schools in the UK, Canada and Europe offer the R.A.D. program states Zissoff. The classes are not widely available in the U.S. "The grading teams can complete their work in about two weeks travel here." she said.