‘Their chance to shine’
For the seniors who have been dancing with Just For Kix for years — many since they were toddlers — the spring show is their last dance with the organization
Marshall High School senior Rachel Thomsen, wearing a blue and gold dance outfit, knelt down at a far corner of the basketball court inside the Southwest Minnesota State University PE gym.
As the music to “Jealous of the Angels” blared throughout the gym, the large crowd filling the bleachers remained silent. That was until Thomsen rose up to her feet, her hands up in the air. She moved elegantly through her solo routine, eventually making her way to the center of the court and twirling on one leg. And the crowd politely clapped.
But by the time Thomsen made it to the opposite corner from where she started, her dance routine ended kneeling down again.
A large ovation followed.
Thomsen’s dance routine last Sunday would be her last solo as part of the Just For Kix dance program in Marshall. Just For Kix was holding its spring show and Thomsen is finishing up her senior season and will be moving on to college.
But for her and many others before her, the dancing journey started out in the Just For Kix program that averages about 150 students yearly. Many youngsters involved in the program start out as 3 year olds.
“She choreographed that routine herself and picked out the song,” Marshall Just For Kix Director Melissa Rutledge said. “She did a very good job. I let them (seniors) pick their song and choreograph it and if they need any help, I help. It’s their chance to shine. It’s their last dance.”
Groups of dancers from pre-kindergarten to seniors in high school also had their opportunity to shine Sunday.
“We typically have big crowds that attend the shows,” Rutledge said. “It’s really good to watch the dancers grow from when they first start in September and those that have been with you for so long for so many years. Some of those girls I have been teaching since they were 3 (years old). To watch them grow into the dancer they have become today is astonishing.”
Rutledge has been in charge of the Marshall Just For Kix program the past four years, but she’s been an instructor since 2007. She has seven instructors to help with the 222 total classes throughout the year.
Just For Kix is actually part of a larger company that was founded by Cindy Clough in Brainerd back in 1981. The organization grew from 120 Minnesota students in the first year to more than 20,000 youths in 14 states.
The Marshall Just For Kix started 24 years ago. Classes were held for many years at various sites in the Marshall Public School District. Four years ago, the classes were moved to St. Stephen Lutheran Church.
That is where Rutledge, a former gymnast, shows her passion for dancing and her students.
“My passion has been dance. I didn’t have it in high school where I grew up. I didn’t get into it until college, but I have a gymnastics background. It’s not the same as dance, but it still has that musical floor routine,” she said.
Rutledge started teaching classes for Just For Kix when her oldest daughter starting taking classes at a young age. And it’s those 3-year-olds that become the foundation for the program, she said.
“Two-and-half to 3 years old is when we start them in pre-petite class. They do three six-week sessions throughout the year. So they don’t go every day of the week. But once they get into preschool, we go every day of the week,” Rutledge said.
“You have to be very prepared,” she said of the very young dancers. “They want to go, go, go and you want to keep changing it up. We do a lot of different activities to teach them how to move with the music and how to do certain beats like stop and go movements, arm movements. We start them to jump with their feet part and put their feet together. We do a lot of different activities like that and we mix them in.
“By the time we are done with those six weeks, most of them have caught on to the dance pretty well — or know parts of it. Others, they just watch us to help them get through the dance. But at that age, it’s more of just making them feel more confident and getting them exposed to moving with the music and the rhythm.”
Rutledge explained that many of her dancers get into the program because an older sibling was in it. But she said they also send fliers through the school system offering an activity that youths can try out. Monthly fees range from $35 to $54, depending on age and length of class time.
“Quite a few of them determine that dance is what they want to do,” she said. “At the show you can see I had quite a few dance with me for 10 years. Some dance with me for five years. My senior that graduated this year, she was in for 13 years. Some of them stick with it for quite some time. I have three seniors that are coming up next year.”
Learning a certain dance routine can take between four to eight weeks for older dancers to master, according to Rutledge. Classes will begin in September and the winter show will be held in December. There are dance competitions held in Minnesota and other states. The dancers also perform at nursing home facilities. Just for Kix dancers have been invited to perform at the June 21 Relay for Life event.
“We are teaching them to be confident. To be confident in themselves and be confident in their presentation,” Rutledge said.
She admits some young dancer are timid at first.
“You have to tell them, ‘OK you have to be in your alter ego type of person. So maybe you are not who you are today, but when you step on that stage, this is who you are.’ And they come alive with all their facials and energy that they have,” she said.