In step: Dance studios establish solid footing in Marshall

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

An expressive, competitive world exists in Marshall whether people refer to it as an art or a sport.

The world of dance is a competitive, expressive place to be, but Marshall offers experienced and inexperienced dancers classes from tap or ballet to jazz or lyrical.

Kelly Thompson, who has been a dancer since she was 10 years old, has been teaching dance off and on for more than 15 years. She opened Kelly's School of Dance in October and teaches adults, teens and individuals as young as 3 or 4.

"There's a lot to benefit by coming to Marshall to dance and the ones who seriously want to become dancers, the more you know, the more you're going to benefit," Thompson said. "I really want to help put mid-Missouri on the map for dance."

A professional dancer who has performed overseas and even in Disneyland, Thompson wants to share her knowledge of dance, and when students are ready and willing, she will point them in the right direction so they can pursue a dancing career.

A part of the professional dance world for so many years, Thompson feels she has connections and can introduce young dancers to other professionals and give them further career opportunities than Marshall can offer.

"I like to work with dancers individually and develop their personal goals, their ability, not just work with them in a group," she said.

However, the dance opportunities in Marshall hardly stop with Kelly's School of Dance. The Salt Fork YMCA also offers dance classes.

Tatiana Toliver, who has also been involved in the professional dance world, teaches children ages 2 and up in a variety of techniques including ballet, pointe and jazz. She said the YMCA would also offer adult classes, depending on space and time, if enough interest was expressed by the community.

"It teaches discipline, self control, it's good physical activity and it builds up character also," Toliver said of dance.

Thompson and Toliver agreed that anyone can benefit from dance, because there are so many aspect involved.

Holly Testerman, who dances under the instruction of both Toliver and Thompson, is 15 and has been dancing since she was 7 years old. She said dance has helped her gain self-confidence and it has strengthened her body. Dancing has also allowed Testerman the ability to memorize things, because she has had to learn so many dance movements and routines. That aspect of dance has paid off during her dance solos and performances as well as in school.

Although Testerman loves dancing and spends about 10 hours a week practicing, she said it is not easy. She believes a person has to have a passion for dancing to succeed, but with a willing attitude, lots of practice and determination, anyone can be a good dancer.

"You have to want to dance and if you don't try you'll never get anywhere, so it really upsets me when people don't even try," Testerman said. "You never know until you try and if it's something you want to do, do it. What other people think or want doesn't matter if it's what you want."

Kellie Henson, a dance instructor at Broadway Bound Talent, another studio new to Marshall, said it is important that her students want to be taking dance classes.

"Everyone can benefit from dance as long as they practice and really want to dance and it's not just their parents' idea," Henson said.

As an instructor for children as young as 3 years old, Henson knows how important it is to learn the basics first, develop those skills and then practice on their own, in class or even go home and practice in front of their families.

"It's not easy," Henson said. "There are a lot of techniques you have to learn before you can prepare a dance."

Through their years as professional dancers, Thompson and Toliver have learned what it takes to be a good dancer. They say good dancers are focused and can perform.

"The further they go, the more they understand it takes work, it takes more to create this beauty onstage," Toliver said. "But the main thing is to have fun and express yourself and learn art form."

As she dances, Thompson said she bares her soul to anyone watching.

"Your soul needs to come out when you dance and if you can tap into what you are and who you are, you can perform," she said. "It makes all the difference."

Dancing is an expression of yourself, Thompson said.

"I am a performer," she said. "When I dance, it's the one area in my life where I can be honest and free with who I am and I don't have to feel ashamed or shy about it. It gives me the greatest joy being able to dance and teach dance."

Thompson teaches dance because she feels dancing is God's gift to her. To not teach others or share her knowledge would be to squelch that gift.

"I like to see their sense of accomplishment," she said. "You can see when a person sees, 'Hey, I can do this.' It's in their eyes."

Although it takes time for her dancers to perfect a new technique, or to incorporate all the moves into one routine, Tatiana recognizes that same sparkle in the eyes of her young students.

"It makes me very happy to see them succeed and see the smiles on their faces," she said. "I'm happy to see them know they did their best and that they are getting the satisfaction of a job well done."

No matter what type of dancing they are teaching, or whether their students want to pursue dancing careers or are dancing purely for recreation or exercise, Thompson and Toliver want to help their students develop into strong, healthy, confident dancers. "Dance will help carry you through any situation, and with the positive attitude you learn you can apply it through your confidence and how you carry yourself," Thompson said. "The discipline, the grace you learn from dance you can use in every area of your life."

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