The Dart: Dance teacher finds a slice of ‘Brookheaven’

Published 7:08 am Saturday, June 18, 2022

BROOKHAVEN — Pearl native and now Brookhaven resident Tammy Stanford typed on a laptop on her porch on West Chickasaw Street close to where The Dart landed Friday morning. Her cat Felix Floyd sat by her feet. Her other cat Lucy Pearl was inside as was her Australian and German Shepard mix Copper. 

A teacher at Mississippi School of the Arts, Stanford moved to Brookhaven for the job about 16 years ago from Hattiesburg. She spent 25 years in Hattiesburg teaching Hattiesburg High School after graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelors of science and fine arts. 

In 2018, she earned her Masters of Fine Arts from Montclair State University in New York. She had two daughters attending school in New York City so they were not too far away, she said. 

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“It was incredible. Montclair has a lively small town feel. I had an AirBnB downtown so I could walk around,” Stanford said. “I got to know the locals and would hop on the bus to the University for class. It was fantastic.” 

She was able to study there over the summer and come back to MSA to teach during the school year. The founder of the dance program at Mississippi’s School of the Arts, she is said it is a dream working there. 

MSA is a gem and is located at the former Whitworth College in Downtown Brookhaven or “Brookheaven,” as she calls it. The focus at MSA is clear: to provide an education and train students to meet industry standards in art and be accepted into colleges. 

It is a dream job and a great environment there, she said. 

“You never feel like you are working. It is a true life calling, every moment you are there,” Stanford said. “I used to tell teachers the worst day at MSA is better than the best day anywhere else.” 

She teaches dance at the school in part to give back what was once given to her. She received a scholarship from Mississippi Valley State University’s theater program. If it wasn’t for MVSU, she would not have been able to start her dance education. 

Art transformed her from a timid child to a confident teacher, she said. She wanted to give the same gift to children for free and public education was the channel she could use. 

“I want other people to realize there is a whole interior world that validates your humanity. I wanted to give it to as many people as I could,” Stanford said.

In her spare time, she enjoys sitting out on her porch, working on her garden and working in her Victorian Cottage. She said it was built in 1908 and is part of Teacher’s Row named for the teachers who lived in the small homes found on Chicksaw when the neighborhood was first built. 

She also spends time journaling, reading and traveling. Later this summer, she will travel to Villa Piana, Italy to put her work as a choreographer on stage in a show called Footfalls Echoes. 

As a child, she kept a diary more about what her day to day life was like. Now, she journals as a spiritual practice. It is how she meditates on the scripture the Lord gives her. It is also a way she can practice life. 

“I journal my progress. How well was I able to follow the Holy Spirit today or did I follow my own process,” Stanford said. “My journal is more of a self-reflection so I can self correct. It is a way to be accountable to myself.” 

Mississippi School of the Arts is why she is in Brookhaven and it will remain the reason she plans to stay here even when she retires. Brookhaven is a lovely place to retire because of the peace and tranquility of the town. She can hop on her bicycle and ride downtown. 

Additionally, she would like to stay connected to MSA whenever she decides to retire. Stanford said she would like to see the art school continue to flourish and thrive. 

“It is not everyone’s cup of tea. Some people don’t see the value in it,” Stanford said. “My mom gave me the best advice when I was going to college. She said ‘Do what you love to do and do it well, the money will always come.’ I’ve given the same advice to my own children. People will seek you out.”