Dancing toward a better life, one student at a time

Freedom Foundation’s project Random Acts of Theatre Company returns to Eau Claire, speaks of current Civil Rights Movement


Photo by Katy Macek

RATCo invited all performers and some of the most expressive dancers in the crowd back to the stage at the end of Friday night’s performance to dance to “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.

Story by Katy Macek, Currents Editor

Twelve-year-old Shania of Selma, Alabama was in kindergarten when she integrated the all-white school in her community and became a central part of the Civil Rights Movement in the south.

Now Shania is a part of Random Acts of Theatre Company, a portion of the Freedom Foundation that gives the younger generation of Selma the opportunity to create a close support group in light of the discrimination and violence that many their age fall victim to. Their therapy of choice? Dance.

Gwen Brown, president of the Freedom Foundation, RATCo volunteer Ronald Smith and 12 members of RATCo visited UW-Eau Claire Friday evening to raise awareness of the issues that still exist in Selma and for the students to show off their dance moves in Zorn Arena.

Brown said Shania’s huge heart and loving personality are traits that embody a huge part of what RATCo means.

“She had no idea what she was doing,” Brown said. “She just thought she was going to school with her friends but made history in Selma.”

Shania and the 11 other RATCo students present Friday night danced to several songs. Local talent from UW-Eau Claire and students in high schools around the community were also able to perform in the form of dancing, spoken word and singing throughout the evening.

Holly Koziel, freshman biology major, works for Blugold Beginnings and helped plan the event in connection with her women’s studies class project on social change.

Originally, Koziel was in charge of advertising but eventually took on the role of emcee, something she had never done before.

“On my part I’m kind of a perfectionist so I feel like those little things could have been fixed,” she said. “I think for my first show and for a lot of ‘what ifs?’ it went really well and I’m really glad that we had the performers we did.”

Jodi Thesing-Ritter, associate dean of students and professor of Koziel’s women’s studies class, is also founder of Blugold Beginnings and helped bring RATCo to campus.

She said she thought the event went really well and was proud of all of her students who helped plan it.

“It was so exciting for me to see the students in my class who are involved in doing social change projects to actually be able to see what it means to plan an event and all the hard work that goes into promoting, setting up for, implementing and cleaning up after an event,” she said.

Because Friday evening was a last-minute plan, Thesing-Ritter said the audience wasn’t as big as she had hoped it would be, but she realized all the people who truly cared about what RATCo meant were there and that was what mattered.

She thought Friday evening was a great way for audience members to engage in the lives of others who might be different from themselves, gain an understanding of a new perspective and celebrate the similarities they share.

“The more opportunities we have to get insight into the lives of other people,” Thesing-Ritter said, “the stronger lives we’re going to build for ourselves.”