Spokane teenager Harris Kahler is set to leave home this month to attend Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, the nation’s oldest performing arts boarding school.
Kahler, 17, has been dancing ballet for six years, but it was a tough sell at first. Kahler is one of seven children, most of whom are involved in acting, but one of her sisters wanted to take tap lessons six years ago. While looking for lessons for her, their mother spotted free ballet lessons for boys and enrolled her son.
At the time, Kahler wanted to play baseball. “I was so angry about it,” Kahler said.
But he went, reluctantly. “There may have been bribes,” said his mother, Erika Kahler.
He started taking two ballet lessons a week. He soon teamed up with Ryan Ham, who was two years younger.
“We clicked right away,” Kahler said. “She was the only girl who wasn’t ‘Ew, cooties.’ I started having fun, I started liking it.
Ham’s mother asked him to consider doing dance competitions with his sister, and Kahler signed up. He hasn’t looked back since.
Kahler now trains 25 to 30 hours a week, splitting her time between Spokane Ballet and Artistry in Motion so she can dance more hours. Kahler attends community school and this past year has worked in the cafeteria before school and at lunch. After school he goes to his first ballet class and his mother often brings him dinner to eat while she drives him to his second school.
“It’s been a busy four years,” her mother said.
Kahler has been doing summer intensives for several years and just returned from an internship at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, specializing in male ballet dancers. Kahler said he was often the only boy in the class and it was a pleasure to take classes with male instructors and be in an all-boys class.
“It’s more intense training,” he said of the summer intensives. “It’s really tough training and weekend classes. It’s great fun.
The family have been considering sending Kahler to a performing arts boarding school for over a year. Kahler said he just needed a bigger school to be challenged and achieve his goal as a professional dancer.
“I need more training,” he said. He said he liked Interlochen because it has male ballet teachers in addition to a good academic program.
“Everything about school really excites me,” he said. “It’s going to be really cool.”
He also looks forward to having more free time because his school and dance will all be on the same campus, and he won’t have to spend time commuting.
“Balancing the crazy dance schedule with school and a social life is crazy,” he said. “I have very, very little time to hang out with my friends.”
His crazy schedule aside, Kahler said he’s glad he found the dance. He had tried acting like his siblings, but “it wasn’t really my thing,” he says. “When I started ballet, I found my one little niche that I loved.”
Dancing at a high level doesn’t just take time, it takes repetition, precision and focus. Even the position of your fingers is important, Kahler said.
“It can be physically exhausting and all that,” he said. “You have to be constantly careful.”
After her final year at Interlochen, Kahler wants to get a college degree and also wants to dance professionally.
“When I’m done dancing, I want to come back to Spokane,” he said.
Upon her return, her goal is either to take over an existing dance studio or to create her own. He said he wanted to be able to provide the more advanced instruction he has to leave Spokane to get.
While Kahler received a scholarship that covers part of the Interlochen registration fee, her family opened a GoFundMe account, bit.ly/31sLfdjto raise funds for his stay there.
His mother said that while she was proud of her son’s dancing ability, she was also proud of who he was as a person.
“He’s really compassionate,” she said. “He develops this character that I insist on. I don’t breed divas here.