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Eye of the Tiger

Dance program founder returns from retirement

VIKTORIA BARR

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Behind the doors of Patti Baker’s second period advanced dance class, movement and sound take hold. Each student practices turns and kicks, eager to perfect choreography under Baker’s watchful eye. Little has changed since Baker started the dance program nearly 30 years ago.

Baker worked at Roseville High School for 24 years. During that time, she built a dance program that served thousands of students, and she was a driving force behind securing funds to build the eponymous Patti Baker Theater.

This semester, she is back on campus to teach one section of advanced dance.  

Walking back through the doors of the RHS dance room brought Baker comforting familiarity. A decade felt like just a winter break.

“It feels remarkably normal,” Baker said. “It’s like I didn’t step away at all.”

Baker was asked to return to RHS for the remaining part of this school year after offering to teach second period advanced dance due to difficulties in finding additional dance teachers. Baker said her return comes with a couple downsides: no more sleeping in, and missing a chance to travel.

Baker first volunteered to come out of retirement for one semester only if a qualified replacement couldn’t be found. However, Baker admits she missed teaching on campus and is happy to be back helping students learn more about what she does best.

“I love to dance, which is the reason I do this, I also love teenagers,” Baker said. “I think teenagers are funny, smart and kind generally, I really missed teenagers and I missed my friends.”

Former student of Baker’s and current dance teacher Pilar Steiner is excited that her former dance teacher is back on campus and greatly appreciates Baker’s willingness to step in.

“It has been extremely helpful for the program to regain its footing and gain a little focus as the school looks to hire in the near future,” Steiner said. “You can’t readily find dance subs, so this has worked out great.”

Baker has been a large part of Steiner’s life since she attended RHS, inspiring Steiner through her wisdom and extensive knowledge of dance. Baker also guided Steiner through obstacles in her life.

“She supported me in taking on the program and maintaining its philosophy. She supported me in my husband’s sudden death, simply by attending his memorial. My memory is sketchy on that event, but I remember her face as I was getting ready to leave his service. That was a gesture that provided comfort and it didn’t go unnoticed,” Steiner said. “Now, we get a chance to work together, two teachers, side by side and it’s been really fun. I am looking forward to show planning and making sure that these kids have the best dance year ever.”

According to the RHS librarian Lauren Zdybel, Baker established the first dance program not only in the district, but in all of Placer County. Zdybel believes that without Baker’s commitment to her students and without her passion for dance, the district’s dance programs would not be what they are today.

“When they built the theater, it seemed natural to me that it would be named the Patti Baker Theater and I thought, ‘What a wonderful tribute to somebody who gave so much of herself to her students and gave so much of herself to the school,’” Zdybel said.

 Zdybel was excited to hear of Baker’s return and appreciates her energetic persona and passion for dance being brought back to RHS.

“At first I thought, ‘why would you come out of retirement to do that?’ But really in a way it makes sense,” Zdybel said. “She’s got a lot of energy, she loves dancing and she’s always loved teaching, so I think it’s great.”

Advanced dance student junior Morgan Larson enjoys the new teaching techniques and energy that Baker brings to the classroom. Larson has had Baker previously as a substitute and can’t wait to see what Baker will continue to contribute to the class.

“I think she’s a great dance teacher. Her work ethic is inspiring and I admire her dedication to always making us the best we can be,” Larson said. “She’s always motivating us to improve both as dancers and as people, I think that goes a long way.”

Before returning to RHS, Baker kept herself busy by traveling all over the globe.  Baker says she’s planted her flag in every continent, from mountain climbing in Antarctica to exploring parts of Africa.

“Well I’ve been traveling a lot,” Baker said. “That’s one of the reasons why I retired. I wanted to travel to some adventurous places while I was still young enough.”

Baker has also been keeping herself busy by choreographing dances for musicals and rehearsing as an actress, singer, and dancer in an upcoming play Sister Act, debuting in Grass Valley.

One of Baker’s favorite memories when teaching at RHS took place around 20 years ago when she was recognized as one of the teachers of the year and given an award presented by Disney. According to Baker, this event was broadcasted to a crowd of 16 million.

“That’s a really special memory of mine,” Baker said.

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