Dena Rackliff, a communications senior from Pawhuska, is traveling with the Osage Ballet to Philadelphia for the Festival of Families, an international Catholic festival held once every three years that celebrates family, community and faith. The ballet company is performing the opening prayer scene from “Wahzhazhe, an Osage Ballet” for Pope Francis on Sept. 26.
The performance for the Pope is the result of a letter Rackliff wrote to the Catholic Congress during her summer internship with the Osage Ballet in Pawhuska. In her letter she wrote about the tribe’s long history with the Catholic church as well as the ongoing loss of culture in their own environment. The ballet company was advised to apply for the festival, resulting in a performance for the Pope.
Rackliff will serve as a public relations coordinator at the festival, sharing events and stories for audiences to follow in real time. In addition to writing stories about the ballet company’s performance and experiences, she will also manage social media accounts during the event. She said her classes at RSU were key in preparing her to represent her company during an international event.
“I don’t think I would have been nearly polished enough to do this internship if I hadn’t had Dr. Jeffery Gentry as an advisor,” she said. “He’s been a great teacher, and there are a lot of students that are proof of that.”
Gentry, who serves as Department Head and Professor of Communications, said the department’s focus on both theory and media production give students the knowledge and skills they need to take on challenges outside the classroom. He said the department’s faculty members serve as advisors beyond enrolling them in classes.
“Advising is about more than enrollment; it’s about meeting students’ needs,” Gentry said. “We try to advise our students constantly to make sure that nobody slips through the cracks.”
Gentry, who Rackliff considers a mentor, said that Rackliff’s accomplishments show how RSU students can make the most of their internships.
“Dena is a perfect case of a student taking a routine internship and creating global impact,” he said. “Her vision and follow-through are an inspiration.”
“Wahzhazhe, an Osage Ballet” is a contemporary ballet that tells the history and culture of the Osage tribe through ballet. The tribe’s reverence for classical ballet is considered the legacy of sisters Maria and Marjorie Tallchief, two Osage ballerinas who were known both across the country and around the world.