Olivia Denson started dance classes at age 2 ½. She learned ballet, jazz, tap and gymnastics but she really loved the ballet. At age 7 it was clear she was smitten, so her parents decided to send her to Kansas City Ballet School’s Johnson County campus. “Coming here was amazing! It was a BIG change,” says Olivia. “Shortly after I switched schools, my old school shut down. So I was really, really glad to be here.”
When asked why she is drawn to ballet, Olivia admits, “I love the discipline. Ballet has so many rules and I love rules. And it just felt natural and the other [dance styles] didn’t feel natural. I love structure and repetition—it’s meditative in a way.”
When asked what she likes most about KCBS, she has trouble picking just one thing: “One of the main things I love is the building. Huge studios and natural light. We are so lucky! I have different teachers each day of the week so I get many different perspectives during the week. I love the teachers at KCBS so much. And I love that we have the opportunity to dance in professional shows.”
Olivia has been part of several KCB Company productions including Cinderella, The Sleeping Beauty, and seven years of The Nutcracker. “I was so excited when I was asked to dance in the ‘Garland Waltz’ in The Sleeping Beauty last season,” Olivia says. “I actually got a role that was mostly given to Trainees. It was a great experience—a big deal. I enjoyed getting to know the Trainees and ask their advice.”
As part of her preparation, Olivia also has been part of Kansas City Youth Ballet, directed by Kimberly Cowen. She likes the company feeling that being part of KCYB brings. Along with the corps work and the fact that they also get to dance contemporary works, working directly with choreographers, especially the company members like Molly Wagner and Charles Martin, makes KCYB a very worthy experience.
Lots of Support
Tuition can be expensive, and for a budding dancer spending your summers in intense training is important. “For my first two Summer Intensives we did a silent auction with our family and friends,” Olivia says. “Family and friends donated items and services—like our dentist donated an electric toothbrush or a teeth whitening package. It seemed like everyone wanted to help however they could. We raised around $2,000 each year to help pay for my SI program. These same folks buy tickets to watch me perform as part of KCYB as well. I’m lucky to have so much support.”
Her dream started years ago at a Kansas City Ballet performance. “I love watching the professional company shows. And once I saw Miss Kim [Kimberly Cowen] dance, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I once asked her to sign my ticket to one of her last performances.”
She knows she wants to become a professional dancer someday. She says, “That’s the coolest job! I would love to stay here as part of KCB. I love KC and we just have such great facilities here. I’ve been to other places and I just feel like we are so lucky here.”
All photography by Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios.