Role model for self-sufficiency in Mississippi

Dance was a refuge to USM students after Hurricane Katrina.

Stacy Reischman Fletcher has earned quite the nickname from her students at The University of Southern Mississippi: “God.” “Everything she does is gold,” says 2009 graduate Lauren Soutullo Smith. “From her genius answers to our questions to her beautiful feet, she never failed to amaze us.”

“I’m not God,” laughs Reischman Fletcher, who is chair of the dance department and only learned of her unofficial title this year. “What you see is what you get.” Yet with all she’s done for her students and her dance department, one can understand the moniker.

For one thing, her classes are something of legend. Her modern technique class is known for transforming and strengthening dancers, and her composition course is a requirement for students on both dance BFA tracks—in dance education and in performance and choreography. “That class is a rite of passage,” she says. “The first day of sophomore year I say, ‘You’re going to do a solo every week.’ There’s no gently stepping into it. It’s full speed ahead.”

At USM, undergraduates are not required to write a thesis, but Reischman Fletcher mandates it for her performance and choreography majors. She’s also passionate about Labanotation and teaches an intensive one- to two-week session on the subject every other year. “Notation is a form of literacy in dance,” she says. “It’s a way to preserve our artform.”

Though Reischman Fletcher had taught at other colleges (The Ohio State University and Kenyon College) she found her home in Hattiesburg, MS—she refers to USM as the “Hidden Gem of the South.” Her biggest achievement since arriving in 2000 has been to make the dance department autonomous after decades under the theater department umbrella. That came to fruition in July 2012. “I consider it my legacy,” she says. “Creating this department feels similar to having a child. Now I need to parent it right.”

Those parenting skills were put to the test when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 and again this year when a tornado tore through campus, destroying a performance space that had recently been renovated. After the hurricane, Reischman Fletcher opened her home to those who were displaced. “When I look back, I realize how lucky our students were to be artists,” she says. “They had an outlet, and the disasters permeated their work. I did whatever I could do, which first of all was to provide them with something they know, like technique class.”

Reischman Fletcher consistently creates smart dancers who go into the world with a knack for creative problem solving, no matter their chosen field. “All educators have a calling, and mine is in higher ed,” she says. “I have my students for the four most fertile, ripe years possible. They enter doe-eyed, and they leave as artists.”

Photo by Desmond Fletcher, courtesy of Stacy Reischman Fletcher

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