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April 22, 2004

Southaven: You want to dance – you dance

From: DeSoto Times - Southaven,MS,USA - Apr 22, 2004

SOUTHAVEN — Choreographer Jill Morris doesn't want the name to intimidate any prospective audience members.

"This is a very casual performance," Morris said of "Feel the Music," Ballet DeSoto's original dance presentation. " 'Ballet' is simply the French word for dance. This will be a very lyrical performance which features everything from bluegrass and folk music to jazz and even some hip-hop."

Instead of the expected ballet costumes - tutus and tights - performers will wear more casual attire, including bluejeans.

Working with Morris on the production, which opens tonight at the DeSoto Civic Center Theater, are Al Funderburk, composer, and Debbijo Barnett, vocal arranger. The 11 dancers and three vocalists are students at area secondary schools, with the exception of Abby Kruse, a Northwest Mississippi Community College student; Milissa Jackson, a local pharmacist; and Rebecca Raburn, a Walls Elementary School teacher.

The cast also includes dancers MacyCate Morris, Sarah Latza, Marissa Newton, Amy Schmidt, Brittany Glover, Amanda Warner, Bethany Snyder and Casey Crane. Vocalists are Samantha Rogers, Natasha Huddleston and Simona Dautartaite.

"Ballet DeSoto was founded to provide an opportunity for our area citizens, regardless of age or skill level, to get up on stage and perform," Morris said. "If anyone wants to participate, we'd find a place for them."

But the organization, which produced the highly successful "Nutcracker" last year, is also involved in helping to raise funds for local charities. "Feel the Music" is no exception.

"In the process of our productions we want to be able to raise funds for groups that normally don't receive a lot of attention," Morris explained. "We're looking for lesser-known yet worthwhile organizations."

The beneficiary of this weekend's production is Parsons' Pledge, a non-profit group founded last year my Don Parsons of the Memphis RiverKings. Parsons' Pledge raises money for the Memphis Oral School for the Deaf, Palmer Home for Children and the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society.

"I was at the gym one day and I saw a brochure with Don and Maggy on the cover," Morris recalled. "I thought, 'what are they doing there?'"

Morris teaches dance to Parsons' oldest daughter, Abby, at her Southaven studio. Abby's sister, Maggy, was born deaf on March 28, 2002. After months of preparation therapy at the Memphis Oral School, Abby received a cochlear implant in May 2003. The implant, coupled with on-going therapy, should allow Abby to enter a mainstream classroom situation at some point between kindergarten and second grade.

"It's been quite a journey for her," Parsons said. "She's actually talking now, and has about 80 percent hearing. It's amazing what they can do now."

In 2003, Parsons formed Parsons' Pledge to help raise funds for the Memphis Oral School and the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society. Parsons' father was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma the previous year.

"With the help of the community, we've raised $60,000 so far," said Parsons, who has been nominated for the National Lymphoma Society's Man of the Year award. "It's amazing the way people pull together.

"I just wanted to help out," he continued. "I didn't know if it would be a flop or raise megabucks."

Because of her connection with the family, Morris and the Ballet DeSoto board decided to host the production to benefit Parson's Pledge.

"I walk for exercise, and as I was walking everything just fell into place," Morris said. " 'Feel the Music' just came to me.

"I did a lot of research to find out exactly what they go through as a family and as siblings," she continued. "These children have to learn how to hear, then they can learn how to talk. Most of them can't talk because they haven't heard."

The Ballet DeSoto original performance, which debuts tonight, tells the story of a deaf child and the struggles she encounters trying to communicate. For example, the only way a deaf

Jamie Mercer/Times News Staff

© 2004 DeSoto Times