Student Profile: Joelle Kimbrough


Joelle Kimbrough dreams of becoming a professional ballerina someday.

“I can express the way I feel through body movement and that’s really neat. It’s also a stress reliever,” says Joelle, a sophomore at Bishop Miege.

Joelle (age 3)

The 15 year old has taken dance classes since she was 3. Three summers ago she attended Kansas City Ballet School’s Junior Summer Intensive program and the following year she was accepted into Kansas City Ballet School’s (KCBS) Summer Intensive.

After enjoying both programs, she decided to transfer from another local dance school to KCBS’s Academy for full-time ballet and dance instruction. Now she just finished her first full year of Academy instruction.

Recently, Joelle was selected to be a 2019 Ambassador for Brown Girls Do Ballet® (BGDB) —the first one for Kansas City.


BGDB, based in Dallas, started as a way to help increase participation of underrepresented minority populations in ballet programs. Through organizing and arranging ballet performances, photo exhibitions, and providing resources and scholarships, BGDB assists young girls in their ballet development and training. Brown Ballerina Jr. Ambassadors (ages 10-12) and Brown Ballerina Youth Ambassadors (ages 13-17) programs bring Brown Ballerinas in Training and mentors of diverse backgrounds. Together they build community and become the local faces of Brown Girls Do Ballet.

The program creates opportunities for young dancers in training to become leaders—eventually mentoring other Brown Ballerinas in Training.

“I had heard about the organization and the ambassador program,” Joelle says. “I always wanted to be one and the opportunity presented itself. So, I took advantage.”

The process required an application and two recommendation letters. Joelle submitted her grade cards along with one letter from KCBS Director Grace Holmes and one from Fine Arts Pastor, Phil Stacey from City Center Church, Lenexa Kan. She received an interview. About three weeks later they told her she was selected. “There are 14 or 15 of us out of 300 applicants. But I’m the only one from KC. I will promote ballet to all races. I will bring diversity to ballet,” Joelle says. “They have other events similar to KC Dance Day. And there are ways to get sponsorships from certain companies or organizations. There are even scholarship opportunities.”

student-profile-joelle-kimbroughBGDB is based in Dallas and the ambassadors are from across the country and Mexico.

“After my year is up, I could reapply,” she says, “but either way I am always affiliated.”

The program involves mentors, too. Ballerinas from other companies and professional dancers want to help the next generation of brown girls.

“I’m excited about the attention this appointment brings to KC and KCBS,” Joelle says.


“I do want to be a professional ballet dancer with a major ballet company someday. If not that, I see myself doing something in the medical field. Anesthesiology has recently caught my attention,” she says.

Either way, Joelle Kimbrough’s star is on the rise and we wish her much success.

Student Profile: Talia Lebowitz

Talia Lebowitz (center) during Kansas City Ballet School's 2018 Summer Intensive program | Photography by Elizabeth Stehling
Talia Lebowitz (center) during Kansas City Ballet School’s 2018 Summer Intensive program | Photography by Elizabeth Stehling

Talia Lebowitz started ballet at age 5. She remembers always wanting to take ballet classes. Once she started, she instantly loved everything about it.

“I love how ballet is very structured but there’s freedom in the movements,” Talia says.

Talia grew up in Agoura Hills, Calif., not far from Malibu. She had attended ballet summer intensive programs at American Ballet Theatre (ABT), Ellison Ballet, and Joffrey Ballet School—all in NY. But UMKC Conservatory professor and Kansas City Ballet School (KCBS) faculty member, David Justin, came to her home studio at California Dance Theatre to teach a master class. He said the class could double as an audition for the Summer Intensive program at KCBS. She signed up and later received an acceptance letter that extended her a full scholarship.


That opportunity brought her to Kansas City Ballet School’s summer intensive program for the first time. While she was here, she enjoyed the teachers, the building, the studios and the ballet technique so much. When she was invited to join the KCBS Daytime Program in the fall of 2018, she jeté-ed at the chance.

At just 16, she had just completed her homeschooling program along with her older brother. So last fall, her parents packed up both of their children for their new adventures. Her brother enrolled in University of California, Santa Barbara, and Talia headed to KC. She now lives on her own with four other girls who are students at KCBS.

“I’d had a taste of being on my own at previous summer intensives in New York, so I wasn’t scared,” she says.

Talia Lebowitz dancing in "Waltz of the Flowers" in "The Nutcracker" | Photography by Elizabeth Stehling
Talia Lebowitz dancing in “Waltz of the Flowers” in “The Nutcracker” | Photography by Elizabeth Stehling


After joining the Daytime Program, Talia auditioned for The Nutcracker. She was cast in three roles: an angel, traditionally danced by advanced students, and also a member of the corps for the snow scene and “Waltz of the Flowers”. The latter two were roles usually danced by members of the professional company. She danced these roles over the course of 25 shows—sometimes performing all three in a single performance.

“It was amazing! I was really nervous, but it was such a good experience,” Talia says. “Getting to dance with the company was so cool… a dream come true.”


In February 2019, Talia competed in Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) Semi-final competitions that took place at The Folly Theater here in KC. Out of more than 100 entries, she received 2nd place in the Senior Classical competition. She performed two works: Grand Pas Classique and Raymonda Variations. Quite a feat!


She is also a member of KCB School’s performance ensemble Kansas City Youth Ballet (KCYB). Talia will perform the Spartacus Pas de Deux as part of their April 4-6 program at the Bolender Center. She will also dance a variation during Esmeralda, which is title work.


Talia feels she’s definitely gotten stronger since she started dancing at Kansas City Ballet School. Her dream is to be a professional dancer in a ballet company someday. She’s already accepted a spot as a Trainee here in KC for the 2019-2020 season.

Former KCB School Student Shines in Canada

Poppy Trettel as "Clara" in Kansas City Ballet's "The Nutcracker" in 2017.
Poppy Trettel as Clara in Kansas City Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” in 2017.

Poppy Trettel has been in love with ballet ever since her mom—a former KCBS dancer—signed her up for a class when she was 2 years old. Poppy trained at Kansas City Ballet School with hopes of becoming a professional dancer, or being cast in a dance movie. “My mom selected Kansas City Ballet School because she attended KCBS when she was young, and she wanted the best teachers for me. She also wanted a live pianist for my classes and great opportunities for me to perform,” Poppy said.

Now age 12, Poppy’s ballet star is quickly rising.

Poppy Trettel (11) and Grady George (12) in Bluebird Pas De Deux from The Sleeping Beauty. First Place winners in Pas De Deux YAGP 2017 Indianapolis, IN


One of the inaugural students in KCBS’s Daytime Program which started in 2016, Poppy has worked very hard on her clean classical ballet style and technique. She has participated and ranked in the Youth America Grand Prix competitions for the past few years. This past winter, she did so well she was offered a chance to attend Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS) summer intensive.

NBS is the top ballet company in Canada’s school which is comfortably in the upper echelon of worldwide status. Getting to know her over the summer, they saw her potential and invited her to attend for the school year. That meant making a big move to Canada and living in the school’s dormitory.

Happily, she wasn’t alone. Her former KCBS classmate and dance partner, Grady George, also attends NBS.

“We are SO proud of Poppy.  Her work ethic and grace have taken her so far in her young career,” says School Director Grace Holmes. “She has been able to fully embrace all of the training and support our faculty have given her, and has taken it to a whole new level. We look forward to seeing where her talent and hard work takes her!”


Poppy Trettel (12) performs as Marie in Canada's National Ballet 2018 production of "The Nutcracker".
Poppy Trettel (12) performs as Marie in Canada’s National Ballet 2018 production of “The Nutcracker”.

In 2017, Poppy danced the role of “Clara” in Kansas City Ballet’s The Nutcracker along with two others. Of course she’d grown up dancing roles in The Nutcracker including Bunny, polichinelle, party scene and more.

This year, she was selected to be one of three girls dancing the role of “Marie” (similar to our “Clara”) in The National Ballet of Canada’s production of The Nutcracker Dec. 8-30 and was awarded opening night.

“Watching Poppy grow up while training under the skilled faculty of Kansas City Ballet Academy has been a very rewarding experience,” says KCB Artistic Director Devon Carney.

“Her participation in several of our productions over the years, especially as Clara in Kansas City Ballet’s The Nutcracker, has proven to be quite formative for her. It is not surprising that her advancement beyond her years is now being recognized by The National Ballet of Canada. I believe she has a great potential to go far in her future in the dance world. We wish her all the best.”


Poppy Trettel (12) as Marie in Canada's National Ballet 2018 production of "The Nutcracker".
Poppy Trettel (12) as Marie in Canada’s National Ballet 2018 production of “The Nutcracker”.
Poppy Trettel and Simo Atanasov performing a pas de deux at the 2018 YAGP Finals.
Poppy Trettel and Simo Atanasov performing a pas de deux at the 2018 YAGP Finals.
Poppy Trettel and Simo Atanasov performing a pas de deux at the 2018 YAGP Finals.
Poppy Trettel and Simo Atanasov performing a pas de deux at the 2018 YAGP Finals.
KCB School Marketing Ad from 2014-15 Season featuring a young Poppy Trettel. Photography by Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios.
KCB School Marketing Ad from 2014-15 Season featuring a young Poppy Trettel. Photography by Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios.
Poppy Trettel as Bunny in KC Ballet's "The Nutcracker" in 2014. Photography by Steve Wilson.
Poppy Trettel as Bunny in KC Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” in 2014. Photography by Steve Wilson.


2018 YAGP NY Finals Results

2018 YAGP Results for KCBS

KC Hosts Youth American Grand Prix

KCBS Competes: 2017 YAGP Finals in NY

KC Ballet School has Historic Showing at Youth American Grand Prix



Student Profile: Joanna Marsh

Joanna Marsh (pictured front-right above) is an avid Kansas City Ballet School Studio Class Student as well as the author of Cantique, a novel following novice dancer Colette Larsen as she is thrust into the world of professional ballet.

What do you enjoy about ballet?

There are so many things I enjoy about ballet. I love how it combines art and athleticism—beauty and strength. I love the music itself and the creative energy and camaraderie that builds up in the studio. And I enjoy taking part in a tradition that has survived for so long; ballet has such a fascinating history.

The way I started as a teen was rather unconventional. Ballet wasn’t on my radar until I saw Robert Altman’s movie The Company. It opened my eyes to what ballet really is, and I was completely enthralled by it, though it never occurred to me to ask my parents for classes. Not long after that, I went to a party on a whim, and some friends there invited me to take a summer session with them at Legacy School of the Arts. Thanks to The Company, I was primed to accept the invitation, though I had no idea how important ballet would become to me.

What would you tell someone considering taking adult studio ballet classes?

I would tell them that it’s never too late to learn how to dance! And also to remember that it’s okay for adults to be beginners. Ballet is challenging, and it takes a while to catch on—just be patient with yourself. Keep things light, enjoy the music, and you will be surprised by how much you can progress. And don’t worry about other students watching you; we are all busy focusing on our own dancing!

In your book, Cantique, your main character begins taking ballet classes as an adult. According to your website you took ballet at 16 and then came back to it as an adult. What inspired you to return to ballet? 

I returned because I missed it terribly! My ballet training as a teen was very short–only about a year, which was long enough to fall in love with it. I gave it up for various reasons (none of which were very good) and always regretted that decision.

I continued to think about ballet quite often. After taking a couple of dance courses in college, I promised myself I would find some classes once I graduated. Eventually, I found KCB and knew that I wouldn’t let ballet go this time! That was over seven years ago.

How did you go about researching the book?

I didn’t need to do much research because I had already spent years immersing myself in ballet. I had a lot of experience to draw from. I did interview Taryn (Layne-Mulhern) Ouellette, one of my teachers, after my first draft was written. I wanted to gain a little insight from a teacher’s perspective to evaluate what I had already written into Marianne’s character. It was fun to hear about what drives Taryn’s love of ballet, and she is an excellent teacher for adult beginners.

Are there similarities between yourself and your main character Colette Larsen?

Colette and I definitely have some similarities. Obviously, our shared love of ballet is one. She and I are also both creative introverts who love our cats. Otherwise, we have completely different family lives and careers, and I’d like to think that I’m more confident and less neurotic than Colette can be sometimes! Oh, and I’m a terrible seamstress; you will never find me making my own dancewear.

In your book, you describe the Westmoreland Ballet, and it sounds a lot like Kansas City Ballet including the layout of the building. How much did you base this fictional company on KCB?

I actually tried to avoid basing Westmoreland on the Bolender Center, but I’m sure there are some similarities—the “little theater” studio being an obvious one. In the book, Westmoreland is described as a “sprawling, Prairie School building,” “rather plain,” and “subject to several half-hearted renovations.” This is not at all how I would describe the sleek and beautifully restored Bolender Center! Besides this brief passage, I intentionally left the descriptions and setting vague, so readers seem to picture whichever ballet school they are most familiar with.

As for the company itself—I wanted it to pass for any mid-sized, Midwestern ballet company. None of the characters in the book are based on actual KCB dancers or staff members.

The hardware store is called Tempe’s. We have a certain ballerina named Tempe Ostergren… coincidence?

Ha,ha! I knew someone would ask me about that one day! Honestly, it was not intentional, although her name was likely floating around in my subconscious at the time. (I finished the first draft in 2015, after I was a supernumerary in Giselle, so I had watched her perform several times.) In the book, the store is named after the original owner, Walter Tempe, but it didn’t take me long to realize the KCB connection. I decided to keep the name anyway. We can go ahead and say it’s a nod to Tempe Ostergren—she’s an incredible dancer!

Where did you get your inspiration for the plot of the ballet?

The plot of the ballet came straight out of Song of Solomon and its various interpretations. I basically read through the book and tried to imagine how Colette might structure a ballet from it. Originally, the music was going to be based on Milton’s Paradise Lost, and the plot of the novel was more about Colette searching through archives to discover the origin of the music. (I’m an archivist and mistakenly thought this was a good idea at the time.) Eventually, the novel morphed into a love story and Song of Solomon seemed like a better pairing.

Was there a piece of music you heard in class?

Not specifically. The first scene I wrote is the one where Colette hears a mysterious song in class during rond de jambe and closes her eyes, overcome by the beauty of the music. Her friend Sammy, who is watching her through the mirror, sees this and gently mocks Colette for being overly romantic. This scene just came to me in a flash one day in 2013, and I felt compelled to write it down. So, there was never one piece in class that inspired it. I will say that I’ve had similar moments during rond de jambe before, though. Probably to Chopin’s Waltz no. 7 in C-sharp minor. That one gets me every time!

How long did it take you to write Cantique?

I’d say at least two and a half years. I wrote sporadic scenes as early as 2013 but wrote the bulk of the manuscript in about six months during 2015. It took another year and a half of editing before I published in June 2017.

What was the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge was releasing Cantique to the public. I’m a perfectionist and could have kept polishing it for another ten years before I’d let anyone else see it. But I needed it to be done. It’s still difficult knowing that it’s out there and people can interpret it however they want. Understandably, readers have a hard time separating me from the story, which can be a bit mortifying at times. I often have to remind people that it’s a work of fiction!

Tell me more about your blog? How did that come about? Where do you find your subjects to interview?

My blog was a way to connect with fellow dancers and readers. Thanks to Instagram, I realized that there is an ever-growing community of adult ballet students all over the world. I found this really fascinating and chose to interview a variety of people whose stories caught my attention. Adult beginners often feel out-of-place or even embarrassed about their interest in ballet; I wanted the blog to celebrate their efforts and to show people that they’re far from alone. Ballet can be for anyone.

Any plans for more books?

I would love to write more books. I promised my readers a sequel but am working on it at a snail’s pace. I work full time and dance 3-4 nights a week, so finding the time is a struggle!

Does your husband enjoy ballet?

He does! He is nowhere near as obsessed as I am, but he has taken class with me twice and enjoys watching performances. He is a musician and is very understanding of my need for time in the studio. If I’m having an off night and dragging my feet about going to class, he’ll tell me, “You’ll feel better if you go.” And he’s always right.

Top Photo by Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios

Student Profile: Leah Reiter

After auditioning during last year’s three-week summer intensive at the Dutch National Ballet Academy, Kansas City Ballet School Student Leah Reiter was invited to attend NBA year round. It is the only ballet school in The Netherlands affiliated with the internationally acclaimed Dutch National Ballet.

“I don’t think anyone in my family was prepared for me to move away at 15 years old,” former KCBS student Leah Reiter says.

Reiter, currently a student at NBA in The Netherlands, started ballet classes in Omaha, Neb., when she was 8 years old. At age 11 she moved to Kansas City and began attending Kansas City Ballet School.

Reiter says attending Kansas City Ballet School—a school she’d heard a lot of good things about while living in Omaha—is where her passion for ballet began.

“Of course I hope to make a career dancing! I think I knew from the start that it [ballet] is what I was meant to do. There was never really a moment when I thought about stopping,” Reiter says. “I wouldn’t be working as hard as I am or sacrificing the things I am if I just wanted to dance for fun. I feel so fortunate to have the possibility to do something I love so much for a living. That would be my ultimate reward for all the blood sweat and tears that I’m putting into this beautiful art form.”

She enjoys being able to channel all her stress from the day and all of her thoughts and feelings into class or rehearsal. Taking negative energy and putting it to good use, like a grand allegro combination has helped her achieve quite a bit of height at times. Finding the positivity wherever she can allows her to improve not only her state of mind but also her dancing.


Moving to Europe has affected her, of course. She talks about the obvious major changes like living so far from her family and friends but also the extreme rewards. She says the teachers and staff work with the academy and are all incredibly talented, along with the other students. Another huge factor that plays a part in the experience at the NBA is the amount of exposure she gets to other cultures. There are students from all corners of the world; including Italy, Japan, Switzerland, Canada, Spain, Australia, America, and of course, The Netherlands. She describes the learning atmosphere as quite inviting as well. “Because everyone has moved to a different country, we are all very supportive and welcoming of each other,” she says.


There are countless things she has learned as a dancer. Two of the most important things: how to stay humble and how to take care of herself.

Both are crucial for a healthy mind and body. Reiter quotes one of her best friends, Anna Hughlett. “When you walk into class, forget everything you might’ve been stressing about and focus on dancing. That’s the beauty of dance—it’s in the moment.” She thinks all dancers of all ages could learn something from this outlook. Another of her own would be: Looking at other dancers and wishing you looked like them is good in small amounts, but if you do it too much, it can get ugly. It’s a fantastic thing to have goals, but if you try to reach them in an unhealthy and neurotic way, it only hurts you,” Reiter says. “Be healthy!” Such wisdom beyond her years.


As a KCBS student, Reiter had the opportunity to audition for Kansas City Ballet company performances as well. “I have been so fortunate to dance in some of Kansas City Ballet’s productions including: Todd Bolender’s Nutcracker, as well as Devon Carney’s Nutcracker, Victoria Morgan’s Cinderella, Septime Webre’s Alice (in wonderland), and Devon Carney’s The Sleeping Beauty. Being able to see behind the scenes what goes into making a company production so great is an amazing experience. Dancing alongside the gorgeous dancers of KCB is also very inspiring,” Reiter says.

Her absolute favorite part of dancing as a member of Kansas City Youth Ballet, the performing ensemble of the KCBS, was the performing. “It’s so rewarding to see everyone’s hard work pay off with an exciting performance. It’s also awesome to dance such fun choreography alongside some of your best friends,” Reiter says.


Being across the pond, it’s natural that Reiter would long for many of the comforts of home. “Of course I miss the obvious like my family, friends, and pets, but I also miss some very specific things,” Reiter says. “Spending hours in the many expansive parks of Kansas City, the amazing barbecue, and Bella Patina are just a few of the ones that come to my mind the quickest.”

She also misses her KCBS teachers Racheal Nye and Grace Holmes. “They have been there for me through this journey of becoming the best dancer I can be and I can’t thank them enough,” Reiter says.

She also craves the variety of classes the KCBS Academy’s Daytime Program offers. “I miss being able to really let go in an improv class or have a blast dancing with my friends in hip-hop. All the classes were a lot of fun, and the training is fantastic,” she says.

“KCBS helped me develop my style as a dancer, and it helped me get where I am today. I can’t thank them enough.”

Student Profile: Timothy TV Cao

Timothy TV Cao began dancing at age 3. His mother encouraged him and his sister to dance and they took jazz and tap. When Timothy got a little older he began auditioning for TV roles in California and later tried in New York for Broadway roles. He landed a role in the show “Matilda” and danced in the cast until he grew too tall. Around that time, at age 13, he started taking private ballet lessons at the Broadway Dance Center from an American Ballet Theatre (ABT) certified instructor. But once he stopped dancing in “Matilda” it was time to move back to the Midwest.

On the Path to Dance

He learned that David Justin was a teacher at Kansas City Ballet School and also ABT certified. “My mom and I started driving here one to two times a week from Wichita for private lessons from him,” Timothy said. “Eventually it just made sense for us to move here. And now I’m part of the Daytime Program.”

Timothy admits that training is hard but he really enjoys it and has fun with it. “You accept that you’re human, that you make mistakes,” he says. “You have to appreciate that you get to train with such talent. It pushes me even more.” Ballet is demanding and perfection, while the goal, can seem impossible at times. So, Timothy says he likes to pick a couple of things to keep focused on. Right now it’s his hands and his back—standing tall. “You just have to take it one thing at a time,” he says.

Mental preparation

When he performs, whether for a Kansas City Youth Ballet show or for a Youth America Grand Prix competitions, he spends time mentally preparing and trying to calm his nerves with music before he goes on stage. Once he’s out there, he says, “I try to enjoy the moment and do the best I can. I like putting my heart into my work and knowing I’m in character makes me happy. The audience wants me to succeed. It helps me to know that and I give everything I’ve got. I try not to disappoint.”

Timothy enjoys KCBS because the facilities are amazing, the professional company is in the building and they are so inspiring to watch, and the teachers want you to succeed and are so friendly—like family. He’s felt like his instructors David, Dmitry Trubchanov, and Ryan Jolicoeur-Nye have pulled him under their wings and really supported his learning.

His advice for younger students? “Just enjoy it! It takes time and time isn’t always on your side but if you can work hard, doors will open.” He hopes to join a professional company someday.

Photography for dance photos by Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios.