Ballet academy

Senior dancers prepare for final performance at Kansas Ballet Academy

Last week was the last week of rehearsals before Kansas Ballet Academy’s annual class concert, and there was palpable excitement in the air.

As John Katz, an academy graduate puts on his ballet slippers, his enthusiasm contrasts with the sentimental thoughts of his teacher, Linda Virr-Niemackl.

Virr-Niemackl, formerly of Topeka Ballet Inc., watched these dancers grow up. Many started ballet in first grade, 10 years ago.

“The joy I feel watching these dancers from a young age through to graduation is very hard to put into words,” she said. “There are so many amazing memories – watching them grow into artists and beautiful young adults.”

But Katz is not sad. He will continue his dance education at Webster University’s Musical Theater Conservatory in the fall, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Musical Theater.

As the group of nine seniors and a handful of other advanced dancers began their warm-ups on Wednesday night, unexpected instrumental versions of songs by Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga and Imagine Dragons played over the speakers as the dancers began to bend , cut and laid along the bar.

Most top-level dancers average between six and 10 hours of practice a week, depending on what they’re preparing for, said Kansas Ballet Academy artistic director Stephanie Heston. At 6 p.m. on June 7, the class will perform its “Reach for the Stars” program, with approximately 250 dancers demonstrating their yearly progress.

“The class concert focuses on sharing our academy students’ year-round progress with friends and family,” Heston said. “And while it follows a theme, this year’s ‘Reach for the Stars’ is themed around movies – it’s not necessarily a linear story.”

Heston said the performance is a traditional recital, but in addition to entertainment, the class concert aims to educate the audience.

“This year, our advanced dancers will perform excerpts from the famous ballet ‘La Bayadère’, and the audience will learn a little about the history and meaning of the ballet in advance,” she said.

Having nine senior academy graduates is a new milestone for Kansas Ballet Academy. In 2015 it merged with Virr-Niemackl’s studio, which allowed for larger classes.

Heston said that every year ballet students are assessed with annual exams. If the instructors think a dancer has succeeded in their skill set, the dancer moves on. Even if a dancer has participated in the academy for 10 years, this does not guarantee graduation at the end of their high school career.

“The main objective of the academy is not necessarily to train professional dancers, although we are able to do so. Only about 1% of our students have career aspirations,” Heston said. “The remaining 99% leverage the skills they learn in ballet class, such as personal responsibility, focus, discipline, tenacity, etc., to improve their academic performance and prepare for success in the self. -calling “real world” outside of dance.

Heston works mostly behind the scenes preparing for the annual recital and has little time to think about the students leaving beforehand.

“For me, exams are the most emotional part of the year because it’s always amazing to see the progress everyone makes each year,” Heston said. “Ballet is extremely difficult and the students work so hard. It’s been so rewarding to watch their joy grow over the years as their self-confidence blossoms alongside their dance technique.

The recital will take place at the Topeka Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $8 for children. Tickets can be purchased through Ticketmaster, by calling (785) 234-2787 or by visiting the TPAC box office at 214 SE 8th Ave.

For more information, visit kansaballet.com.

Contact the journalist Maue Savannah at (785) 295-5621 or on Twitter

@CJFoodFun or @SavannaMaue.

Contact reporter Savanna Maue at (785) 295-5621 or on Twitter @CJFoodFun or @SavannaMaue.