In a recent visit to the school, located on Cooper Square, I chatted with her about what makes the school special, about Rosie’s deep ties to this neighborhood (and especially to its arts community), as well as her hopes and dreams for the future.
You may not have heard of Sweet Soul Movement (for kids 2.5 to 6 years old) and Soul Arts Academy (for children up to the age of 12). But a lot of parents, particularly downtown artists and other creative types, swear by the program, which is known as a creative arts school focused on “holistic development, instead of merely imparting artistic technique.” In their brochure, actress and parent Rachel Weiss calls the school a “magical place for children that… feeds (their) imaginations and their hearts and their bodies.”
Rosie has a long history in the neighborhood. She was born in Connecticut, but moved to 9th Street and 1st Avenue at the age of 9. Rosie is also no stranger to the performing arts. She shot her first commercial at age 3 and was on Broadway by the time her 7th birthday rolled around. By the time Rosie was 20, having been on stage and on camera virtually her entire life, she felt burned out and lost. So she picked up and moved to San Francisco, where she became a successful songwriter and, more importantly, found time for some invaluable soul searching and self-discovery.
Years later, back on the Lower East Side, the birth of her daughter, inspired Rosie to create Sweet Souls. After spending two years at home with her daughter, Rosie began teaching a class at the Chinatown YMCA. In no time, she was juggling five classes of ten students each. Today, more than 200 kids are enrolled in about 20 classes.
Parents will tell you Rosie has a gift for connecting with children, whether they’re destined to become professional dancers or not. “My style of teaching children is to really honor who they are as people and to never dumb things down for them — to have them be co-creators in the process,” Rosie told me. The idea, she explained, is to teach “children to be good people, (to teach) them to use their bodies and their creativity in an empowering way that they can take with them (throughout their lives).”
Towards the end of our conversation, we were joined by Emily Blackman, the first teacher Rosie ever hired, and Savannah, Emily’s precocious daughter, who’s been coming to school at Sweet Souls pretty much her entire life. Emily, an accomplished professional dancer, said, “skills can be learned anywhere; this place is about learning improvisation, learning how to move and learning about teamwork.” In the end, Rosie added, kids earn an appreciation for the choices their creatively-minded parents have made. “We are not wealthy people,” she said. “The kids are aware of what we are and what we do. They are not entitled. They can see their parents living their dreams.”
In the months and years ahead, Soul Arts Academy hopes to begin a search for a home of its own. For the past three years, they have rented space at the 440 Studios on Astor Place, but the school is quickly outgrowing their cramped quarters in this location. Rosie is all too aware the dream of a stand-alone facility will not be easily realized in New York’s treacherous real estate market. But she is determined.
If you would like to learn more about Soul Arts Academy, here’s the link to their web site. The fall semester begins September 12th.