APS alum/Michael Jackson choreographer Travis Payne shows F.L. Stanton some steps

It’s become a habit of Travis Payne, APS alumnus and famed former choreographer to the late Michael Jackson, to return to not only Atlanta but his educational roots. But the timing on this occasion could not have been more bittersweet. Payne took time out to visit two elementary schools today as he continued to celebrate the commemorative film This Is It, which he co-produced and in which he is featured as Jackson’s long-time choreographer. The movie comes quickly on the heels of Jackson’s untimely death a few months ago as he was preparing for a series of London concerts. The film’s footage comes from that preparation.

But Payne’s Atlanta visit to F.L. Stanton Elementary School on Friday was a positive one, as he introduced some video segments of himself promoting the film on the Ellen DeGeneres show and on local Atlanta TV in front of a packed Stanton auditorium. (This marks the second visit to Stanton in three years for Payne, whose cousin, Arthurline Taylor, is Stanton’s instructional specialist.) Payne is a proud graduate of then Northside High (now North Atlanta) who studied under the tutelage of musical theater instructor William Densmore and dance instructor Gary Harrison. (Both has since passed away.)

While at Northside, Payne performed with the school’s “The Tour” show, touring Europe and Japan under corporate sponsorship. “Those were the first professinal scenarios for me,” said Payne, who also attended Fickett Elementary and what is now Young Middle School. “It was my first taste of what a professional life could be like, that you could make a living out of this, and it prepared me for my career. The students would do so much of the production. We had 25 performers on stage, and 15 in the crew, handing the setting up of the stage, running the lights. We were sort of ambassadors for America.”

Then Payne met with the students, playing his clips and relating his experiences, whether it was the honor of working with Michael Jackson or the payoff of dedication to chasing one’s dreams. “Everything you do starts with a dream,” he said. “You just have to be open to it, and be willing to put in the hard work to make it happen. Every choice you make can put you closer to your goals. You should dream big because it’ll make the goal that much more challenging, and that much more worth it when you achieve it.”

Payne then delighted the audience by selecting some students to join him for some moonwalk moves onstage, and then pulled the attending faculty members for a very special line dance as the students applauded. He then received some gifts of appreciation from the students, and posed with Taylor, Stanton Principal Dr. Marlo Barber and others for pictures.

“It’s such an honor to have him here,” said Barber. “It shows our children in Atlanta Public Schools that their dreams can be achieved as well. They’ve now seen someone who attended Atlanta Public Schools and is successful. I know many of them have already seen the movie, and they’ve seen he’s been in the film and he helped produce it. And once again it shows that there’s no excuse for them not to succeed.”

Indeed, Stanton has been named a “No Excuses” school in consecutive years by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

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