Portia Hall: Founder of Franklin Dance and More

Dancers in Franklin’s spring Arts Alive performing after months of preparation. The showcase is a great way for the community to enjoy Franklin arts and have a great night.
Photo via Django Boletus Photography

Dance at Franklin has quite the history, and who would’ve thought that it all started back in 2007 from a school closing and a social studies teacher. Back when Kellogg Middle School was closing down (ironically now reopening), the last class of 8th graders were moved over to Franklin. A couple of teachers were brought over with the students, but there was no one to teach their dance class. Portia Hall, Franklin’s AP government and economics teacher, who had been choreographing the spring musicals the past couple of years, was asked if she would teach the Kellogg students dance.

It started in an old teacher’s cafeteria—now the special ed rooms. The room hadn’t been in use and Hall took it over as a place to coach her dance team. Hall began the room’s transformation and got donations to put mirrors on the walls. After that, she went to Home Depot and personally installed bars on the walls for the dancers. When the school year rolled around, the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) gave her a grant to put a cushioned dance floor in for better and safer dancing than the hard linoleum floors provided. Hall had created Franklin’s first dance studio.

“That first year in 2007, I had like fifteen girls,” says Hall. These were the 8th graders from Kellogg. Hall created a winter and spring recital for the fifteen girls that may not have attracted crowds, but gave the dancers performance experience. Franklin decided to put dance into the forecast guide for next year to see if it would attract interest, and it did. Hall now had two beginning dance classes of 9-12 graders. After two classes, the next year brought three, and Hall began to teach intermediate dance alongside beginning. This of course was still in addition to her normal social studies (SS) classes, managing the Constitutional Law team, and choreographing/directing the musicals.

From 2007 to 2012, Hall was the only dance teacher, and in 2012 she became dance certified with her schedule rounding out to three SS classes and three dance classes. In 2012, dance had become so popular at Franklin that a full-time dance teacher, Julana Torres, was hired to cover the six dance classes, and Hall returned to being a full-time SS teacher. Torres remained at Franklin for five years and during her time changed the spring recital to what is now Arts Alive, the spring dance and art showcase. Sonia Kellerman replaced her in 2017 (Kellerman and Hall both graduated from Jefferson in the same class) and dance became even more popular, going from six classes to seven last year, and eight this year. Hall was then brought back in to teach the beginning dance classes and lighten Sonia’s dance load. Hall’s primary job was always SS, but she loves teaching dance, and with Sonia in charge, the burden was easier for Hall.

Some teachers teach English and SS, or Health and PE because the classes are more or less related, but Hall breaks that rule as the AP Government and beginning dance teacher. Dance and the Constitution team (also known as conlaw) share their performance aspect, so her experience can be translated to both classes.

Next year, however, Hall is taking a year off for maternity leave to take care of her expected twins. The one thing she wants to return to after her year off for maternity leave is the dance program. Conlaw has already been passed off to David Marsh, and the Arts Department is strong enough to survive without her for now. In five or six years, when Hall’s kids are old enough, she plans to return to the musicals and help in choreography or directing. With dance, the only afterschool commitment is one week for recitals each semester, so she will readily go back into teaching it.

“That’s the problem because there’s very few people that are certified to teach dance,” Hall says. A part time teacher needs three classes, and full time is six. If Sonia teaches a full six classes, a part time teacher would require three classes, so there would have to be nine classes. But numbers go up and down, so fewer people could forecast for dance next year, or more people might. Next year’s dance teacher situation is yet to be figured out.

Franklin only needs to get past the next year of dance and then Hall will be back to teaching it. “It’s easier with more people in the department… instead of being a department of one where you’re in charge of everything,” says Hall. Franklin has a lot of amazing dancers and what’s great is that beginning dance was the only level at first, but now there are more levels where one can work their way up and get stronger and stronger. Franklin is lucky to have such a strong dance program, since many other high schools don’t even offer the course.

“When I took PE I felt like a clutz, like I couldn’t do anything. But then when I dance, I don’t feel like a clutz and I can workout,” says Hall. “If we’re trying to create healthy people for the long term, we want them to find a comfortable way like dance to exercise.”

Hall has been the main proponent in getting our arts department to where it’s at today. Without her, who knows if dance would even be at Franklin. “I built these programs up, and I want to make sure they don’t go away,” says Hall. There was a period of time when there was no drama or dance, only a part time choir teacher, but Hall has stuck through it all. Her hard work and dedication is now flourishing throughout the community and makes Franklin a stronger place.

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