Paying it Forward

by Carly Basham

Confidence, showmanship, kindness and responsibility. These are the core values that were taught one dance step at a time at two local elementary schools. Jan Ryan, one of the original founders of the Jacksonville High School J’ettes, has spent the last five months of her retirement from public education by leading another movement: an after-school dance program at Lincoln and Washington Elementary Schools. 

Ryan, now retired after over 30 years as an educator and administrator, has taken a leap into life’s next journey. From November until the end of March, Ryan, along with the help of former and current J’ettes, as well as a member of the Turner Junior High Pom Squad, led a free dance clinic after school every Wednesday for any girls interested in the 4th, 5th and 6th grades at Lincoln Elementary. For the month of March, clinics were held for the 5th and 6th grade girls of Washington Elementary.

Speaking with Ryan as the last week of clinics came to a close, it was easy to see the dedication she has to the youth of Jacksonville. When asking what she hoped to instill in the students who attended, her answer was one from the heart, “Kindness and confidence. The dancing comes secondary.” For Ryan, she saw a need, and she rallied the forces to fill it. Utilizing past connections and friendships, she yet again built a team from the ground up. Professional music was donated from an acquaintance out-of-state; a sound system and pom-poms came locally. Money that was donated provided t-shirts and leggings for every participant. The hard work behind the scenes came to life when the Lincoln Dance Squad took center stage to perform for a basketball game held at The Jacksonville High School Bowl. The glow of the bright, fluorescent lights shining down held no match to the smiles upon their faces as they proudly stepped out onto the hardwood floor.

When asked what her inspiration was for the clinics, Ryan explained that each girl should have access to dance lessons, regardless of cost. She has seen firsthand the benefits of such programs for youth. While coaching for the J’ettes, Ryan also saw the difference during tryouts between girls who had access to dance, and those that didn’t. Creating the clinic gives those who are interested a fair chance when trying out at the junior high level. She hopes to branch out next year to more schools within District 117.

At the end of our conversation, I asked Ryan if there were anything she would like the public to know. Her answer? How grateful she is to the Jacksonville community for all of their support. And just like that, she leaves me with a lesson: humility.

Those wishing to support next year’s clinics and future endeavors can donate directly to Jacksonville Public Schools Foundation, 516 Jordan St., Jacksonville, IL 62650 c/o The Lincoln Dance Squad. Ryan can be reached directly at for those with questions or wishing to volunteer.

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