It’s not surprising, really, that I wanted to dance. My mom said when I was in the womb that I would either be a football player or a dancer, and she was right! I still don’t understand football, so it’s a good thing I liked to dance. 🙂
My mom and dad are both pianists. Mom also played violin and clarinet. My sister is a very accomplished pianist herself, and she and my mom both teach at a Music and Arts store in North Carolina. Lori and my dad are also singers, and my dad was the drama director at my high school and directed many community theater shows as well. My sister also played the flute, my older brother the drums (still plays, too!), and my little brother played the saxophone. I played the piano (a bit) and the flute for a few years. By the time I finished my freshman year of band I was so into my dancing that I didn’t have time to consider another year of marching band, so I let that one go.
Growing up we always had music in our home. People playing piano, drums, flute, sax, and singing filled the house from downstairs in the living room, downstairs in the music room, upstairs in the bedroom, and even out on the front porch steps and upstairs balcony. I love piano music and could listen to it all day, especially when someone is sitting at a piano playing it live. My parents played a duet on one piano using two octaves and four hands, my aunt Virginia would come and she and my mom would open the doors between the music room and living room and play two piano duets. It was awesome!
My next door neighbor, Jennifer, took ballet and tap. I took some gymnastics first, but was really taken by what Jennifer had to show me when we were about 9 or 10 years old. I had a pair on black patent leather shoes that I would pretend were my tap shoes and she’d give me lessons on the front porch. I loved it, and couldn’t wait until my parents said I could start taking lessons, too. When I was ten years old and classes started in the fall, they let me begin, and I was in love.
I started out at Debbie Wilkerson’s Dance Studio in Greenfield, Indiana. Her studio is still in business to this day and she will always hold a very dear place in my heart. I began with tap and ballet, and my favorite at first was tap. Eventually we added jazz, and then Debbie recommended I start taking classes at the Jordan Academy of Dance in Indianapolis. So on Saturdays, my dad would take me to ballet where I had so many new steps to learn and had to adjust to taking class once a week with girls who took everyday together. It was awkward and I really disliked it, but somehow I knew that by going there my chances of improving and making my dreams come true were brighter.
My dad found out about a special program at Butler University while talking with some of the other parents in the waiting area one day. They had a program for high school students who attended college early, usually going half a day to high school and finishing out the day with dance classes at Butler. My dad knew this had to happen, and he made sure it did happen. He spoke to the principal at my high school and starting the second semester of my sophomore year, I began going to school early for independent study sessions, attended my other classes, ate lunch at noon, and then drove to Butler University for ballet class beginning at 2:00 until 3:20 Monday through Friday. There were a few other high school students in my position, but none were from my school, so I drove alone 35 minutes on the interstate each day. Twice a week we had pointe class from 3:30-4:30, and during Nutcracker season I stayed on for rehearsals for Snow or Waltz of the Flowers (or soldiers, my first year!) until even later.
Then, I’d go back home and get ready for play practice, because I wanted to be involved in drama club where my dad spent much of his time and where my best friends from school were every night. Sometimes I would also teach classes for Debbie’s studio, but I think those were on days when I didn’t have rehearsals at Butler or the high school, or were on Saturdays. My dad helped me put up a makeshift barre in our attic and clear out some space so I had my own little studio up there. It was hot in the summer, but it felt so wonderful to be up there doing barre, practicing my pirouettes or tap, and choreographing for the school talent show. I had a record player with lots of records and it felt so authentic.
By the time I finished high school a semester early, in January of 1986, I had 21 college credits and began my full time studies in ballet at Indiana University in Bloomington the same month. I went back to high school for graduation with my friends and classmates in June of 1986, even though I’d already been living on campus and had completed my first semester of college. It really was like a dream, and I continued dancing at the University of Arizona from 1989-1992 where I got my MFA degree in dance in Tucson. I got to do some awesome roles in Arizona, and was prepared then to begin dancing professionally.
I’m just thankful that my family is so artistic and theatrical; otherwise I’m not sure I would have been given the opportunities I was given to succeed in my area of passion.