Last summer, Kansas City Ballet welcomed a new Community Engagement and Education Manager, April Berry. Ms. Berry comes from an impressive background in dance, as well as dance education.
We sat down with her recently to learn more about her and what makes her tick.
How have you enjoyed KC so far? I am really enjoying living and working in Kansas City! The people, the food, and the vibrant arts scene are amazing.
What has surprised you the most? I am most surprised by how much downtown Kansas City has evolved over the last several years.
Tell me a little about your career and how you transitioned into community education. Most people are surprised to know that I began my professional dance career as a ballerina. Because I started there and ended my performing career in a modern dance company, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, I have had incredibly diverse experiences as a dancer, dancing very diverse repertoire from classical ballet and modern dance to cutting edge contemporary work. I naturally gravitated towards dance education after retiring from the stage because I had such wonderful dance teachers and mentors who not only “trained” me to dance, but also “educated” me on the history of dance, various dance forms and styles, and made me aware of different choreographers and companies around the world.
What is the role of Community Education for a ballet company? I believe Community Education should illuminate, inspire, and engage a broader public in the art form dance, and specifically to provide opportunities for the general public to learn more about the world of ballet.
What do you enjoy most about doing what you do? I enjoy most about my work the opportunity to meet people of different ages that are from different walks of life, and to see everyone from students to senior adults light up when they discover something about dance that they were not previously aware of.
What do you find challenging? Most challenging is finding like-minded individuals who are willing and committed to working in different community settings for consistent periods of time, in order to bring dance to the people.
Who inspired you to dance, to teach? Keith Lee, one of my early ballet teachers, who was a former dancer with American Ballet Theatre, and former Balanchine ballerina Tanaquil LeClerc, another influential ballet teacher I had, both inspired me to dance.
Alvin Ailey and Dr. Katherine Dunham, whom I worked extensively with during my dance career, inspired me to give back by teaching.
What is the most important thing you want to share with the community? Well I would like children to know that they can generally achieve anything they desire with hard work, dedication, and a willingness to be flexible and open to learning new things and meeting new people.
A broader community message would be to encourage people to make sure and seek out arts organizations and programs that are offered in your community. Attend a dance performance, educational lecture, class, or bring a dance program to your school, library, or workplace for others to experience. Expose school children to educational performances at the theater, informative lecture demonstrations that come into schools, and other programs that are offered at community venues that encourage on-going learning through the arts.
What is your favorite inspirational quote or personal mantra? One of my favorite quotes came from Alvin Ailey: Dance came from the people and should always be brought back to the people.
How do you set goals and measure success for yourself and for your programs? Wow, well I usually look at what is missing and/or needed to strengthen programming and then set my sights on doing something about that. I measure the success of a program by measuring the impact the program has had on those who have been exposed to it, and on how many people express interest in engaging in the program.
What do you hope people take away from your programs? I hope that people take away new information from my programs, and are truly inspired and excited to engage in dance and with the ballet in different ways.
Photography: Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios