St. Mark’s Dance Studio Registration

Photograph By
Stephanie Deutsch

Rosetta Brooks leads dancers at a final service with retiring rector Paul Abernathy, January 2015

Ballet lessons aren’t just for little girls. Beyond the fact that boys can and do study ballet, there is also the fact that adults, male and female, can and do study ballet. And not just ballet but jazz dance as well. There are professional dancers, of course, but there are also people who do it just because, in the words of Rosetta Brooks, director of the dance studio at St. Mark’s Church, “Dancing makes you feel good!”

Brooks – “Rosie” to devotees of the studio – ought to know. She has been teaching dance at St. Mark’s for an astonishing 51 years.  Legions of students of all ages have been inspired and encouraged by her demanding classes and encouraging attitude. “Everyone can dance,” she says.  “It’s good for your brain; it’s good for your body. For some of my students it’s their therapy. So many of them have intense jobs. Dancing clears their heads.”

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church at 3rd and A streets SE has been hosting the dance studio since 1963, when it was founded by the late Mary Craighill with encouragement from the rector of the time, the late Bill Baxter. The dance studio offered classes to children and adults as well as the opportunity to participate in liturgical dance as part of church services and in outside performances. Dancers from the studio formed a semi-professional troupe that performed regularly at St. Mark’s and also traveled and performed overseas, in Russia and the Czech Republic.

Brooks, who had grown up in Capitol Hill, was a student at Howard University in October 1964 when she was called by her friend George Faison to substitute in a performance for a dancer who was ill. Faison, who went on to be the first African-American to win a Tony award and to dance with the Alvin Ailey Dance company, encouraged her to go to New York to further her career as a performer. But Brooks had always wanted to teach and to choreograph. “I am very fortunate,” she says. “Right now I am doing exactly what I always wanted to do.” Since 1999, when Mary Craighill died, Brooks has been director of the studio as well as a teacher there. Feeling inspired by, among others, Martha Graham who taught into her 80s, she has no plans to retire.

St. Mark’s church recently completed a year-long renovation that displaced classes for a time, but the second-floor studio is now back in service, a sun-filled, mirror-lined space. A full roster of classes will begin in the fall with Brooks assisted by two other long-time teachers, Dorothy Walker and Jessica Sloane. Sloane started her own dance career by taking lessons from Brooks at St. Mark’s when she was a child.

Brooks values the relationship with the church. The studio holds an annual open house with dancers, both adult and children, performing in the Romanesque-style nave. There are regular recitals as well for adults and for children. And Brooks creates liturgical dances for special occasions in the church calendar or in the life of the congregation. In January, when Paul Abernathy retired after 16 years as rector, 10 women from the parish, some regulars in the dance classes, some not, danced at his final service. On Palm Sunday the gospel reading was enhanced by a liturgical dance.

Margaret Wood, a law librarian at the Library of Congress, is a member of St. Mark’s Church and a longtime student in the studio. She says what draws her back year after year is the fellowship there. Many of the women who take classes have become friends over the years; they celebrate birthdays and other special occasions with potluck suppers or just conversation after class. Of Brooks, Wood says simply, “She’s an inspiration. In her life and in her teaching.”

Registration for fall classes in ballet, jazz dance, and pilates for adults and for children will be on Friday, Sept. 11, 3:00-6:00 p.m.; and Saturday, Sept. 12, 9:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m., in the studio. For more information see

Liturgical dancers at Palm Sunday service.
Rosetta Brooks with adult ballet students Edward Bohls, Tori Goldhammer, Susan Jacobs, Dawn Bohls, Leyla Mocan, and Joan Koury.

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