Former students honor mentor and previous dance school owner

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

CHARLESTON, Mo. -- The 38th annual Patti Simmons School of Dance recital on Saturday had a surprise finale so grand, it brought the former owner and director to laughter and tears.

After the dancers performed and awards were presented, owner and director Melissa Seiler tearfully read a thank you to her former teacher, Patti Simmons Marriott, now retired.

"She has helped so many girls meet so many goals," said Seiler, referencing Simmons Marriott as a mentor and second mother. "Without her in my life, I would not be the person I am today. I just hope to be half the teacher and person she is."

Seiler led Simmons Marriott to a stool at the edge of the stage at the Clara Drinkwater Newnam Auditorium in Charleston. Then, former dancers of Simmons Marriot took the stage, performing a montage of dance moves to music Simmons Marriott was "notorious for," said Seiler. "Those who danced for her would all identify with it in some way."

Songs included the "Kitty Cat Song" and "Pet Me Papa." Seiler said she still uses some of them to this day.

Personal moves

Two of the dancers in the montage, now in Seiler's adult class, agreed Simmons Marriott played a big role in their life.

"All my memories of my childhood had something to do with Miss Patti and dance, so when Melissa asked, I just wanted to be part of this for her," said Kristi Hadder. She was one of Simmons Marriott's students for eight years, and said the moves and music Seiler put together were appropriate and personal for her former teacher.

And although she's still in the classes, Hadder said she did have a bit of stage fright leading up to the performance. "I just want to do a good job for her," Hadder said.

Fellow classmate Mandy Johnson, who was one of Simmons Marriott's students for four or five years as a child, said she was excited to surprise her former teacher.

"We're all just happy to be a part of it," she said.

Following the montage, four girls dressed as a maid service took the stage with galvanized trash cans, doing the "trash can number" Simmons Marriot had dancers do years ago, Seiler said.

She wrapped up the tribute by dancing to a song titled "Thank You."

Through the performances, Simmons Marriott laughed and cried. "I just had to laugh," she said after the show. "It brought back a million memories."

She said she was "flabbergasted." And although there were some former students Seiler could not convince to take the stage, they came to the recital and spent time hugging and visiting with Simmons Marriot following the show.

Renaming the studio

Seiler said part of the reason she decided to do the tribute was because she is changing the name of the studio this year.

The studio will be renamed "Melissa's Studio of Performing Arts." She wants to branch out and offer more than just dance. "My degree is in performing arts, but I also have a minor in music," she said. "I would eventually like to offer music classes and acting classes."

"But, at the same time, I wanted to let her know that I think highly of her," said Seiler. She enrolled in classes with Simmons Marriott in 1986, when Seiler was just 4.

One of the things that means the most to Seiler is that her former teacher had the confidence in her to allow her to purchase not only her studio, but also the name known throughout the region.

And Simmons Marriott applauded Seiler for the job she's done with the studio since the change in ownership seven years ago, saying she is "very pleased. But I always knew that she had the capability."

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