Education Initiative Activities Impact Community Members with Terrance Simien & The Zydeco Experience and Mark Morris Dance Group

Terrance Simien with Mason Folklore class

Each season, the Hylton Performing Arts Center offers students and community members the opportunity to experience the arts in meaningful ways through direct artist engagement activities. The 2022–2023 season didn’t disappoint, as artists Mark Morris Dance Group and Terrance Simien & The Zydeco Experience not only shared their artistry with Hylton audiences, but also shared their personal experiences through select community outreach events.

In February 2022, the Hylton Center welcomed Mark Morris Dance Group for the first time with their production of Pepperland (2/11). Prior to their Merchant Hall debut, company dancers Brandon Cournay and Billy Smith spent two days leading multiple community engagement activities with more than 140 students from George Mason University’s School of Dance, Prince William County Public Schools’ Colgan High School, and the Lifelong Learning Institute in Manassas, Virginia.

Mark Morris Dance Group with the Lifelong Learning Institute, Manassas

The masterclasses with Mason’s School of Dance and Colgan High School (2/9) included learning company repertory from Pepperland. Colgan High School dance teacher Jamie Howes shared, “My students loved the live accompaniment as well as learning repertoire from the company.” Company members Cournay and Smith also led a lecture demonstration for Lifelong Learning Institute, Manassas that taught the history of Mark Morris Dance Group as well as the development process for Pepperland. One participant stated, “I found all aspects of the class equality informative. . . The demonstrations by the dancers helped us understand what was happening when I saw the actual performance on stage.” Another LLI participant noted, “The class was great fun! Brandon & Billy were simply wonderful.”

That same week, Cournay and Smith led a class for the signature Mark Morris Dance Group program, Dance for Parkinson’s Disease (Dance for PD®) (2/10), a program that offers internationally acclaimed, research-backed dance classes for people with Parkinson’s disease. The class, designed to empower through music and movement in a safe, accessible environment, offers physical benefits, reduces social isolation, and creates a sense of community. One class participant raved, “I had a wonderful experience. . . Our instructors in Manassas, Brandon, and Billy, were excellent. Clear directions, specific, and general encouragement, joyful!”

Later in the month, Artist-in-Residence and American Roots Series artists Terrance Simien & The Zydeco Experience spent one week introducing southern Louisiana Creole culture and Zydeco music: the traditional folk music of the Black and multiracial French-speaking Creoles to more than 2,000 community members. Participating schools and organizations included Prince William County Public Schools, Manassas City Public Schools, Manassas Park City Schools, Lifelong Learning Institute, Manassas, and George Mason University.

Terrance Simien & The Zydeco Experience at Colgan High School's Center for Fine and Performing Arts Music Technology program

Community engagement began with a lecture-demonstration at Colgan High School’s Center for Fine and Performing Arts Music Technology program (2/21). Terrance Simien and his band led an inspiring conversation about the business side of making music and being a successful roots musician. The following day, Terrance Simien & The Zydeco Experience visited Potomac Shores Middle School (2/22) to perform “Creole for Kidz,” which introduced Creole culture and Zydeco music to the students and teachers. Rounding out day two of the residency, Terrance visited a George Mason University Folklore class covering the multiculturalism of Louisiana Creoles and how it influences his music.

The next day, Simien and band members hosted a lecture-demonstration for the Lifelong Learning Institute, Manassas, followed by an evening discussion hosted by George Mason University’s Arts Management program. Program Director Karalee Dawn MacKay facilitated a conversation between Terrance Simien and his agent and manager Cynthia Simien, highlighting the evolution of building a career in Black American roots music.

The outreach portion of the residency concluded with two “Creole for Kidz” interactive concerts in the Hylton Center’s Merchant Hall (2/24). More than 1,500 students across City of Manassas, City of Manassas Park, and Prince William County all experienced a high-energy, interactive multicultural musical performance. The artists were equally delighted with the week’s activities, as shared by Cynthia Simien, “This residency ranks in the top five, if not number one, in all the residencies we’ve done over our long career.”

The Hylton Center’s commitment to education and community outreach saw another successful year engaging learners of all ages. To find out more about the Hylton Center’s Education Initiative, visit 

The engagement of Terrance Simien & The Zydeco Experience was made possible through the ArtsCONNECT program of Mid Atlantic Arts with support from the National Endowment for the Arts,  Additional American Roots Series sponsors included Randall Edwards, Miller Toyota of Manassas, NOVEC, and United Bank. 

The engagements of Mark Morris Dance Group and Terrance Simien & The Zydeco Experience were both supported by the Hylton Center’s 2022–2023 Season Sponsor: F.H. Furr Plumbing, Heating, Air Conditioning & Electrical, as well as the Hylton Center Education Initiative’s lead sponsor: Amazon Web Services.  Additional Education Initiative support included The McNichols Family Foundation, Lillian Ballard, and the Friends of the Hylton Center.