Frances Pitts talks about running the Metropolitan School of Dance in Northeast Oklahoma City.
Interviewer: Sheldon Beach
Interviewee: Frances Pitts
SB: I’m Sheldon Beach with the Metropolitan Library System. Today is October 15th, 2019 and I am talking to…
FP: Frances Pitts.
SB: Okay, and can you spell your name for me?
FP: F R A N C E S and then Pitts, P as in Paul, I,T as in Tom, T as in Tom, S as in Sam.
SB: And when and where were you born? You don’t have to tell me a year if you don’t want to. [laughter]
FP: In the 50s. [laughter]
SB: And where was that that you were born?
FP: Wilmington, Delaware
SB: And what brought you to Oklahoma? How’d you get here?
FP: Military move.
SB: How long ago did you --
FP: Probably a little over 20 years now, and so it was our second visit with my husband being in the air force and then we retired here.
SB: What made you want to retire here?
FP: I thought it was a wonderful place to raise a family. Being from the East Coast, it’s a little bit… My kids have lived all over the world and trying to take them into Philadelphia or Wilmington would have been extremely difficult when they learned to accept people of every kind and so, kind of, we were kind of afraid of taking them back to that kind of environment since they weren’t accustomed to the mindset and the fast pace and all of that. We wanted a more wide open space and family friendly state to live in.
SB: How do you feel like it is different here? Have you seen that it’s like what you were hoping?
FP: No. [laughter] It used to be ,um, it was wonderful. More wide open spaces and places to live and options of places to live and not so crowded. We liked -- loved it actually, at that time. Looking at all of the places that we lived and in comparison, it was again a nice place to, in our opinion, raise a family.
SB: What part of town did you move to when you first got here?
FP: Well, we were military, so it would’ve been around Tinker and we lived in Midwest City first.
SB: And do you still live there now?
FP: I do not. I live in Northwest Oklahoma City.
SB: Okay, and what brought that change? Why’d you move from Midwest City to Oklahoma City?
FP: At that time, we were, again, looking at public schools and seeing where the ratings were for public schools and education and it was more attractive in the Putnam City School District for our kids to be raised there.
SB: What have you been doing since you got here?
FP: I am now Executive Director of Metropolitan School of Dance so we teach dance to all kids actually, but every ethnicity, every walk of life, from every part of the city, but we train -- our studio is located in Northeast Oklahoma City because that is our primary focus - to serve our community, actually.
SB: Have you always been a dancer?
FP: I have not been a dancer. When we moved here, our kids tried out for basketball, volleyball, soccer, and they were good at those things but they weren’t great and it just wasn’t a fit for them that I was pleased with and so we heard about Inner City Dance Institute at the time that did a Halftime Show at the Cavaliers game. That was years ago, the first time we were here, a basketball team that we had long before the Thunder. And I thought they did a wonderful job and the kids looked like my kids and so we enrolled them in Inner City Dance and they absolutely shined. My oldest daughter, as a result of her training at Inner City Dance, won a scholarship to college and she went to Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Virginia and that helped her in her growth and, I mean, it brought her out of her shell. And of course, then I believed in the program and what it offered to our kids and so that was the attraction for me.
SB: And why did you open your own dance place?
FP: Actually, Inner City Dance Institute -- well Metropolitan School of Dance changed its name from Inner City Dance Institute to make it all incorporating or all encompassing of everyone. There was a mindset then because it was Inner City Dance Institute, people automatically and unfortunately labeled it as poor, pitiful, black kids and that’s not what it was. It was every child who wanted to dance and that aspired to be a dancer and we didn’t care what they looked like - short, tall, fat, skinny, light dark, whatever race - you could come dance at Inner City and I believed in that but, again, we wanted that name to be all encompassing so that the label would not be placed on the kids that were training at Metropolitan and so that’s why we changed the name.
SB: What kind of dance do people do there?
FP: They start at age 3 through adult, age 87 so far, so every age range, and we train in ballet, tap, modern, jazz, African, pointe, hip hop, and drumming.
SB: What’s your favorite?
FP: Hm, I would have to say… Oh that’s a difficult thing because I actually like all of it. African and ballet, I think, are my favorite.
SB: Are there people that have gone through the school of dance, have they performed locally much? Do y’all ever do performances?
FP: We do performances every year, all year long. We've performed at the Festival of the Arts for years, we’ve performed at Global Oklahoma, we've performed at the FAA, Dell Corporation, Devon, oh my gosh. Forest Park had a town hall festival that the students performed at. Pretty much where people will call us and ask us, you know, “can you perform at this event or that event?” We certainly want to go out and share and perform at those venues, so…
SB: Do you have a favorite place that you all perform?
FP: Hm… [pause] We really like performing at the Festival of the Arts, so that’s a nice place to perform.
SB: And are people ever surprised to see that you have a school of dance in the middle of Oklahoma City?
FP: They’re surprised to see that, they’re also surprised when we say, you know, they know that we offer all of the different styles that I mentioned, ballet, African, tap, all of that, however, when we get around to Black History Month, February, they’ll call and say “can you perform an African dance or an African piece for our cultural event” because we do performances at public schools as well. And yes we can do that and I’ll say yes if the flooring and all of that is conducive to our dancers and does not injure our dancers. They will ask for African and we will say yes to African and then we will present starting with ballet and then they’re kind of surprised like “oh, they do ballet or modern dance or tap dance.”
SB: What do you feel like that brings to the community?
FP: It is our hope and our vision that it would bring some artistic excellence to what is offered and what is available to our kids in the community. Of course they have the academics but arts kind of plays that hopeful role or makes it full circle. We can talk about STEM, science, technology, and all of that, but no one ever, or hardly ever, adds the arts to that which we know is essential, I mean it’s essential to businesses. I mean, how could you have a business, or how businesses were created through creativity so it does not matter whether it was through the arts or even in a business flourishing or thriving. It’s very important for kids to express, and adults, to express what they feel through movement and sound and that’s not always voice, or it’s not always instrument, so we offer dance.
SB: I like that you point out how important it is to business. I was talking to the director of the State Arts Council recently and she had said, “you know, people go places where they see art.” You know, if it’s a nice place that has things like that, it makes you want to go there more.
SB: Also, you had mentioned scholarships and things like that. Have you all seen a lot of, I don’t know, I’m really not sure how to put it, have you seen changes in the people who’ve done it? Do they start doing more things, doing better in school, trying to get scholarships, things like that?
FP: Absolutely. And that’s what we hope that they will do because it’s new, you know, in the beginning, it’s kind of new and fresh and maybe they’ve not seen it so much and so we do open the doors for scholarships, you know, for them to attend and train at Metropolitan, we’ve seen so many turnarounds of students that may be going through some, you know, bad emotions or troubled times or watching some tragedies in their lives and here’s something positive where they’re accepted and it doesn’t matter. And so, yeah, we’ve seen absolute changes in the students that train at Metropolitan.
SB: Do you have any stories of any of the students?
FP: Um, without sharing any names, I -- one thing that Metropolitan does that you might not see at other arts organizations or dance organizations, maybe, is that when our students train, mostly on Saturdays, when they train at Metropolitan, they are given a nutritious snack, they are given a lunch if they’re there for an extended day. There was one student -- and another thing I wanted to say is that we can go all over the city and present or show in our public school partners what’s offered at Metropolitan and then the kids are excited but then how do they get there if their parents don’t have transportation? Well, Metropolitan provides transportation for the kids to travel to and fro classes. And I was gonna say that there was one student that I -- on a Tuesday night, I said to her, I’m driving her home from training and she happened to live on the South side and I said “how was your Thanksgiving?” This was after Thanksgiving and she said “it was good. My mom and I went to Jesus' house and we served food at Jesus’ house. And then when we were finished, they gave us a plate so we could take home” and mind you, Thanksgiving, it’s Tuesday -- I mean Thursday, and here we are at Tuesday and I’m driving her home and she said “so everyday, when I come home from school, I eat a little bit so that plate can last me until we have food” and it just totally surprised me. I’m thinking “oh my God, she’s feeding off of the same plate, or eating off of the same plate, just to make it last through the week” and it absolutely broke my heart. So of course, the only thing that I saw in driving her home was one of the local fast food restaurants or chains and I stopped there and got her some dinner, but you know, we feed the kids. How can they possibly think if they’re thinking about their stomach first? And so that student is still dancing with us, absolutely shines is what she does, everything, the technical elevation that she has reached in dance, it’s changed her life. She’s one from night to day and so, that’s what we know can happen with every child that will dance or train with us. That kind of thing sticks in your mind and you know that you’re making a difference because sometimes you can get weary or tired, you know, am I making a difference? Is it gonna be good? Is it being effective? And it absolutely is, so…
SB: Kind of shifting gears a little bit, since you’ve been doing that, how have you seen the community change?
FP: When we first started, again as Inner City Dance Institute, and I don’t know, you know, I don’t wanna -- I’ve seen -- I don’t know how to say it nicely, but... however when we first started, there was a commitment not only from the students that were training, but also the parents who were bringing and so now there is a bit of a difficult breakdown where the kids are interested but the parents are so inundated with their own challenges in their lives that that commitment from the parents is not there so much, so I have seen that change, where they’re concerned about what’s going on in their personal lives and so they’re pulled in many different directions. That change we’ve seen.
SB: What, if anything, have you seen in the community that you would like to see come back?
FP: I would love to see us coming together, more together, as a people in a cohesive group that embraces each other, that there is so much judgement beyond the scope of what our lives are like or what our lives are… We need to let that go and pull together more as a community and grow together and flourish together and help our kids to elevate together.
SB: I guess, kind of a… Since a lot of this is about place, where is the dance studio or academy?
FP: Metropolitan School of Dance
SB: Metropolitan School of Dance, where is it located?
FP: We are located at the Douglass at Page Woodson. On the second floor.
SB: That’s something that has changed a lot over the years, I know that whole neighborhood is completely different than it used to be.
SB: What -- have you seen change, good or bad, just physically with the area?
FP: I think the area looks wonderful now and I’m excited about the new things that are coming and building around the Douglass at Page Woodson and so where you may have seen houses that may have been abandoned at some point now is flourishing and growing and developing and providing more opportunities for activities and events and things that our people can do in the area.
SB: What would you like to see continue to change? Is there something you would like to see for the future of the community?
FP: I’d like to see more of our kids get involved. I’d like to see more of our families get involved. I’d like us to just have open dialogue constantly, whether we agree or disagree, if we can all come together, I would love to see that. Have a conversation and keep that conversation going on ways to improve and ways to grow our community.
SB: What do you see as the future for the Metropolitan School of Dance?
FP: I’m excited about Metropolitan School of Dance and its growth and it is our hope and our goal to develop the organization in such a way that not only do we offer training to our students in dance, in the arts, but to even develop a professional company that shows its face more in the city and in the state.
SB: So I noticed one of the things you had mentioned in the age range you said 85?
FP: 87. So far.
SB: That kind of gives me hope that maybe someday I can learn to dance.
SB: Do you have a lot of adults and older people start, just come in and say “hey I can’t dance what do I do?”
FP: We do. And there’s no judgement, you get to try it. We let everybody try our classes for free and then decide whether or not to enroll. So yeah, absolutely. The adult classes are on the weeks now, during the week. On Saturdays primarily are our younger students and teenagers, up to teen, but some are older than that. But throughout the week when we have classes, our Wednesday and Thursday classes are mostly adult classes.
SB: So if somebody does want to find you, is there -- where can they find you all?
FP: Again, we are at the Douglass at Page Woodson, which is at 600 North High in Oklahoma city, 73117, I think, is the zip code. Our phone number is area code 405-236-5026. They can call us there or write us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get back with them and invite them and whatever questions they may have, we’ll be able to answer, try to the best of our ability, answer the questions that they may have about it.
SB: Does the school of dance have any sort of online presence? Do y’all have a website or Facebook or anything?
FP: We do, thank you. [laughter] www.msdiokc.org
SB: So that’s where somebody can go if they want to find out what kinds of dances you all offer?
FP: Yes. And we have a Facebook presence. If they want to look us up on Facebook, they can find information about us on Facebook and Metropolitan hosts the Oklahoma City Tap Dance Festival every year so they can look at -- if they’re interested in tap dance or ever wanted to try that, we have the Oklahoma City Tap Dance Festival. The next festival is going to be September 18th, 19th and 20th of 2020 and then we have a summer dance camp, fall session, and spring session.
SB: How long is the tap dance thing going on?
FP: How long?
SB: I haven’t ever heard about it.
FP: The Oklahoma City Tap -- we brought that back, this was our second year because we did it again in June of 2019 and then we’re going to do it a little bit later next year so next year will be our third year of bringing back the Oklahoma City Tap Festival.
SB: And people can find out about those events or what kind of dance they can learn if they go to your website or Facebook?
SB: Alright, is there anything else you’d like to add about the community or about dance or about your hope for the future or anything at all?
FP: I just would like to thank you for the opportunity to talk about Metropolitan and to talk about our dreams and hopes and goals for our community. I want everyone to know they’re welcome, we’re inviting you to come. We want you to come and it’s a positive alternative for our kids to engage in the arts and so Metropolitan School of Dance is available for them to do that.
SB: Alright well thank you so much for coming down and taking the time to talk to me.
FP: Thank you very much, Sheldon.