A Kansas City Ballet Mass Appeal

Kansas City Ballet School provides opportunities for students of all ages.

image-14During the summer, the Summer Intensives offer teens from all over the nation who audition and are accepted the chance to work with nationally renowned faculty (above) or summer camps for kids (facing page, center). The Studio classes also include ballet for adults (Facing page, left.) Or they can try to improve their flexibility and strength in yoga and Pilates (facing page, far right.) Photography by Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios, Copyright Kansas City Ballet.

Nineteenth century writer and intellect Henry Adams wrote, “Unity is vision; it must have been part of the process of learning to see.” At the Kansas City Ballet, guests and students might just change the word “see” to “dance.”

This unity is further cemented through the Kansas City Ballet School with an Academy aimed at developing young dancers; Summer Intensives that take burgeoning dancers and propel them to new heights; and the Studio program, which provides adults a chance to experience ballet, yoga and other movement-based activities. And that unification is created at the Todd Bolender Center for Creativity & Dance, a building designed with ample space and classrooms with proper flooring for dance.

Kansas City Ballet School Director Emily Simpson explains that children, tweens and teens interested in dance can find opportunities through the Academy. The courses are designed for age appropriateness from the youngest dancers at 3 years old to pre-professionals at the age of 18.

The Studio presents dance and fitness classes for those 12 and up, with most being adult students. “These classes are all about community,” Simpson says. “Our goal is to get people involved in dance. As our executive director Jeff Bentley likes to say, ‘Kansas City is to be a destination for dance. We know the Kansas City Ballet can help lead the way in bringing dance to the community.’ It’s a chance to explore movement. For many, this is a chance to look into tap, jazz, Zumba and other classes.”
The Summer Intensives offer teens from all over the nation who audition and are accepted the chance to work with nationally renowned faculty. “The students come here and experience a professional setting. They take classes all day five days a week for five weeks. During the weekend, we try to get them out to explore the area and take them to places like Heart of America Shakespeare Festival or Worlds of Fun, but during the week, it is tough. This program is aimed to increase a student’s technique and artistry.” There are four levels and 25 students per level.

The dancers at the upper level Summer Intensives start the day with yoga or Pilates. They progress to traditional ballet class. For the girls, it’s on to pointe class while the boys move to classes designed for men which includes jumps and turns. They unite for pas de deux classes, which puts them together as a pair. Plus they may also work on variations or repertoire. Students also get to try different dance disciplines such as jazz and flamenco. Finally, they get health and nutrition classes, discussions about careers in the field and resume writing. The students are housed at the Kansas City Art Institute.

Kimberly Cowen, principal and associate school director, is responsible for the students of the Upper School and is the director of the Kansas City Youth Ballet. Her biographical statement says, “She is dedicated to teaching the next generation of dancers and passing on all she has learned in her time as a student and a professional.” She spent 20 years dancing for the Kansas City Ballet and became a beloved Kansas City favorite.

“I treasure Summer Intensives. You aren’t in school so there is so much more time to dedicate to dance. You get a lot of work done in one day. I remember how these programs built strength and stamina. You think you are strong from the weekends and week nights full of classes, but this just adds so much. Students also get to encounter different teachers. Perhaps the summer instructor works a step differently and it helps you understand for the first time. Everyone learns differently so an instructor from another school may be what a student needs. There’s also something fun that students get to see where they stand compared to their peers. It’s also about building connections.” Cowen says Summer Intensives, overall, taught her to be more versatile.

There is also a Summer Intensive for Level 3 which meets for five days a week for four weeks. Cowen says this course works wonders for students who are learning a large vocabulary of steps while aiming to get their coordination under control. “It really is about focus and gives students the chance to get more accomplished,” Cowen says. “The focus and the time also allow for corrections to be made. As an example, in one step, you may have to correct your arms, head position … it could be five or six minor corrections.”

During these intensives, students gain an even deeper understanding in working as a group. Cowen says the analogy she uses is almost like breathing as a group when moving. “Once they get that understanding, it’s huge leaps and bounds in quality.” Simpson says there are also chances to show leadership.

Currently, there are more than 500 students in the Academy, which includes the smaller campus in Johnson County. The Studio program has about 700, between those at the Bolender Center and the 95th and Nall location. The courses in Johnson County run up to Level 5. Level 6 and 7 are housed only at the Bolender Center. “By the time a student is in Level 7, we are looking at them as future performers with the company and hopefully members of the Youth Ballet Company.”

For the youngest students, summer camps offer a four-day session to explore dance within the context of fairy tale and storybook ballets. “It might spark an interest. These camps can be a way to test the waters,” Simpson says. Both women treasure their time with dance. “It’s a sense of confidence that grows,” Cowen says. “It can start early in the training process and when students are part of the youth company, they really accelerate that confidence as they experience professional performances with hair, costume and stage etiquette.”

For Simpson, the work ethic dance created stays with her. “So is the ability to take criticism,” she says. “I get excited for the students who attend the intensives. We invite amazing teachers so that students find amazing opportunities and create memories that last a lifetime.”

Kellie Houx

Kellie Houx is a writer and photographer. A graduate of Park University, she has 20 years of experience as a journalist. As a writer, wife and mom, she values education, arts, family and togetherness.

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