Rosemary DelValle never approved of students clowning around in class, but she’s doing lots of clowning around herself these days.
After 38 years as an elementary school teacher in the Bronx and Manhattan, DelValle has transferred all the skills she honed to engage and motivate students to her new role as Merry Rose the Clown.
No more sensible shoes and appropriate classroom attire. DelValle now appears in brightly colored sneakers festooned with flowers, a pink outfit covered in polka dots and an outrageous hat — or sundry other eye-catching costumes — for college fundraisers and visits to hospitals, senior centers, nursing homes and veterans’ homes in the New York metropolitan area.
Lighthearted as her antic dress and snappy repartee may be, both her intent and preparation are very serious.
DelValle was a teacher at PS 234 in the Bronx and a staff developer, bilingual coordinator and reading coordinator at PS 115 in Manhattan. Right after her retirement in 2010, she attended clown school for 30 hours of training. She then became part of a clown alley, a professional community of clowns that arranges gigs and keeps each other on their zany toes.
DelValle picked her own clown persona. Merry is for the happy-go-lucky character she portrays and Rose is not only for her first name but also because, with a quick twist of the wrist, she can transform a tissue into a rose. That’s her trademark.
“To engage students as a teacher, I always loved to sing and dance and to tell stories using puppets,” she explained. “Now I’ve adapted those motivating techniques for adults and the new challenges that presents.”
At nursing homes and hospitals, Merry Rose not only entertains but works in some helpful exercises. As “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” plays, she tosses small balls she has brought with her to residents and patients to get them physically involved in the show, or she blows bubbles to encourage up-and-down eye movement.
“I want to get them to laugh, to feel confident about movement,” she said. “And for those who can’t, maybe just holding a hand is what will count.”
Merry Rose performs two or three times a week at ever-changing venues. “I’m always thinking of new routines,” she said. Sometimes she’s the clown in a parade or the entertainment at a college fundraiser. Sometimes, depending on the audience, she transforms herself into Rosita the Clown, a gossipy elderly lady DelValle said she “created by imitating one of my old aunts.”
DelValle admits she found clowns too pushy as a child, so she’s aware that some people are not comfortable around her during performances. “But being a clown is something I really enjoy because I feel I’ve brought joy into people’s lives,” she said. “I always come back with so much more than I brought.”
Although the pandemic has sidelined her in-person performances, thanks to Zoom, Merry Rose continues to spread her own brand of comfort and happiness.