Forty years ago, the Ruth Green Dancers gave Statesboro a unique moment in the national spotlight when the United States celebrated its 200th birthday.
Although 1976 was the bicentennial year, celebrations
dedicated to the individual states began the previous year. A team of 11 performers and their dance instructor, Dr. Ruth Green, presented a "History of Statesboro" in dance in Washington, D.C., during the Georgia State Day program on Nov. 7, 1975.
The Ruth Green Dancers had performed "History of Statesboro" at the Mill Creek Arts and Crafts Festival in October, and afterwards learned of the opportunity to appear on a national stage, recalls Green, who once taught dance at Georgia Southern University. The modern dance performance, which Green wrote and choreographed, was set to Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring," a Pulitzer Prize-winning ballet score. Through their movements, the dancers told the story of Statesboro: From the chartering of Bulloch County in 1796, through both world wars and on through the economic progress of the 1970s.
The Statesboro troupe's unique act at the Mill Creek festival drew the attention of a visitor from Kennesaw, whose own dance group, the Little Generals Cloggers, had already applied to perform at the Georgia State Day. As soon as she heard of the capitol city's event, Green began the work to get her team to D.C.
First, Green returned to the program she had written and choreographed and made serious revisions and alterations to her original composition. The dance itself was expanded, embellished and polished to perform for Congress.
"I wrote out the history I wanted to show, then I started breaking it down to how it would fit the music in the segment (of "Appalachian Spring"), then who danced what and how we danced it together," Green said. "It takes a long time, and it's a lot of work."
After her revisions, Green brought the newly developed dance to her students to rehearse and workshop, which they did — some while balancing day jobs. At the time, Green taught "adult and children's ballet, modern dance for all ages, and ballroom dancing" from her studio on South College Street, according to a Statesboro Herald article about the performance at the Mill Creek Arts and Crafts Festival, written by Herald reporter Beth Crawford Parrish.
For "History of Statesboro," Parrish wrote, Green's dancers were adults who had signed up for dance classes, including "an insurance salesman, landscape artist, professor, telephone company employee, graduate assistant in psychology, interior decorator, homemaker, school teacher, student, shoe maker, and an employee with the psycho-ed center."
As they practiced, Green began to tackle the logistics of taking her "motley group" of 11 people to the capitol. There was plenty of paperwork to fill out for the Bicentennial's Georgia State Day, and Green completed most of it herself. The dancers also undertook their own fundraising with a bake sale and a community garage sale in addition to accepting small donations from a few local individuals and organizations, including two $100 donations from Sea Island Bank and the Kiwanis Club of Statesboro. Green and the dancers themselves provided the rest of the funds from their own pockets.
When everything was ready, the Ruth Green Dancers carpooled to D.C., where they stayed at the Harrington Hotel, bunking up to minimize room fees.
The Ruth Green Dancers and several other arts groups performed in four different locations across the city. Their first performance was brief — trimmed to three minutes — during the Capitol Ceremony, which opened the Georgia State Day festivities Nov. 7. They performed at The Soldiers' Home later that day and, because of scheduling complications, danced at the Jefferson Memorial the next morning, Nov. 8.
With several different performance spaces and little time to practice on-site, the Ruth Green Dancers had to adjust and improvise on the fly. The Jefferson Memorial was particularly tricky because of the rough ground. But, Green said, it was also the most fun.
"We couldn't sit down and spin, because (the ground) was pebbles, so you had to move your feet well instead of dragging them," Green said. "It was fun because the people on bicycles and tourists stopped, and they sat on the step and watched us, and when we finished they asked us questions. That was fun to do."
While the trip was a short one, Green said that her performers' modern dance made an impression on their audience. After their return home, Green received a letter from Congressman Ronald "Bo" Ginn, who endorsed the group's appearance at the ceremony, thanking Green for her dancers' contributions.
"I cannot tell you how many glowing comments I have heard from the other Georgia Delegation Members and visitors upon seeing your performances throughout Washington," Ginn wrote. "… Let me say how much I enjoyed being with you, and how your presence at the ceremonies made Georgia Day such a special event for me."
With the letter, Ginn included a signed picture of himself with the Ruth Green Dancers posing outside the Capitol building as a remembrance of the trip.
Saturday was the 40th anniversary of the Ruth Green Dancers' appearance at the Bicentennial celebration. So that Statesboro's contribution to the landmark American celebration is not forgotten, Green has assembled and contributed her records of the event to the Georgia State archives in Morrow, Georgia. Her records include the congressman's letter, the signed picture, drafts and notes of the "History of Statesboro" narration and choreography, documentation of the fundraising, copies of the paperwork, and more photos of the trip, along with the Savannah Morning News coverage of the Georgia State Day ceremony and photos picked up by the United Press International Wire. They also include the certificate of appreciation presented to the Ruth Green Dancers in recognition of their participation in the Bicentennial Salute to the States program.
Green, who has taught dance in many capacities and many locations in her lifetime, has also contributed records of Statesboro's history to Georgia Southern's special collections section at the Zach S. Henderson Library on campus. It is part of her ongoing service to a town she has loved for several decades, to help current and future residents remember special events from Statesboro's past.
"It was a lot of work, but it was fun too — it really was," Green said of the performance at the Bicentennial. "We felt pretty special to do it, and I still think it was a very special thing for Statesboro, whether anyone knows about it or not. I really do."
Brittani Howell can be reached at (912) 489-9405.