“I like the fact that we’re getting regular exercise, learning new dances and still, we’re managing to help our local youth,” said Wiley, a south Augusta resident and licensed practical nurse.
Each week, she meets with a line-dance group called Soul Sliders of Augusta, who also raise money for area high school band departments.
According to Natalie Hudson, 30, the dance group’s leader, Soul Sliders participants are charged a $3 fee for each dance lesson – with proceeds helping high school band programs.
A year ago, several bands were each given a $300 donation, Hudson said, noting that the donation amount should increase this year, as participation in the Sliders group has steadily grown.
Glenn Hills High School band instructor Sherry Puryear said band programs are gracious for any amount of financial support and all money helps students.
“On paper it may not seem to be a large amount,” Puryear said, “but believe me, as band directors, we’re very thankful for all support.”
Puryear said many Richmond County band programs use the money to help students whose families cannot afford to purchase new instruments or who may need other items, including gloves, marching shoes or bucks, or spats to cover the shoes.
Hudson was part of Butler High School Band’s dancing unit, the Golden Divas, before graduating in 2000.
While attending Georgia Southern University, she continued her dance career with a step team that competed in competitions with many of the school’s fraternities and sororities.
“The kids really need lots of equipment and clothing when it comes to participating in band. Many of the uniforms are outdated and too many instruments are beyond repair,” said Hudson, who also teaches with Richmond County schools.
Hudson described a recent incident where two area bands were forced to share one sousaphone and, when the duct tape holding it together eventually wore thin, the top portion of the instrument disconnected from its base during the halftime performance at a football game.
Soul Sliders of Augusta CEO Wendy McKinney said she had many reasons for forming the group three years ago. As a South Augusta resident, McKinney said she saw rising crime and how it often involved young people.
“I realize the importance of band programs,” she said. “For one, it keeps young people off the streets, and it’s also a way for young people to learn a trade, a skill.”
McKinney said that when she started the group, there were just two classes. She said she found she had less time to manage the line-dance classes between her administrative job at Fort Gordon and being a new grandmother. McKinney, who was once the coordinator over the high school dance program at Butler High, called on Hudson, her former Golden Divas student, to take over the helm.
Alise Stokes, a Columbia County paralegal, says being a Sliders participant is a stress reliever after a hard day of work.
“I joined particularly to learn new line dances,” she said, “more than just the usual Electric Slide, Wobble and Boot-Scootin’ Boogie dances you see all the time. Natalie uses regular dance songs you may hear on the radio instead of typical line-dance music.
“This gives us more freedom, versatility and creativity for all dances and all types of music,” Stokes said.
Hudson says she appreciates the group because of its diverse membership.
“We have folks from various ethnic groups, cultures, ages and gender,” she said.
She challenged more men to join, saying some men who joined in the past failed to stay the course.
“We try and take it easy on our newcomers,” Hudson said. “Our goal is not to show anyone up. We’re here to have fun. I realize everyone has their very own learning curve and we respect that.”
Gwendolyn Sams, 63, said she’s experienced a few health benefits since starting with the group a year ago.
“My blood pressure has decreased and my diabetes is no longer a major issue,” she said.
Penny Johnson, a Richmond County Board of Education administrator, said she highly welcomes Soul Sliders’ community service efforts.
“This is absolutely fabulous,” she said. “We really appreciate this opportunity. So many high school band programs are requiring more money to accomplish their needs.
“Because we’re in a resource-limited environment, this makes their effort even more significant,” said Johnson, a former band director whose current role as professional learning specialist includes administrative jurisdiction over fine arts programs throughout Richmond County schools.
“This program is not only a great exercise outlet, it also provides us with good fellowship while we support and uplift our youth,” said Allison Campbell, a Richmond County high school teacher and regular Soul Sliders participant.
Soul Sliders classes are:
- Mondays, 6 p.m., Henry Brigham Recreation Center
- Tuesdays, 10 a.m., Diamond Lakes Recreation Center (Senior Citizens)
- Tuesdays, 6 p.m., Bernie Ward Recreation Center
- Wednesdays, 6 p.m., Diamond Lakes Recreation Center
For more information, call (706) 284-3283.