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.



Kansas City Ballet School Students Timothy TV Cao and Hannah Zucht performed at the 2019 YAGP NY Finals. | Photography by VAM.

Kansas City Ballet School participates in 2019 YAGP NY Finals for the third year in a row. This year marks the 20th Anniversary of the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP). Kansas City Ballet School has been competing for the last four years.


Kansas City Ballet School Student Kathryn Benson performed at the 2019 YAGP NY Finals. | Photography by VAM.


Juniors Division (Classical and Contemporary): Kathryn Benson

Seniors Division (Classical and Contemporary): Hannah Zucht

Pas de Deux Division: Hannah Zucht and Timothy TV Cao

Ensemble Division: Claire Duritza, Madeline Duritza, Colleen McKenzie, and Hope Wampler
The group performed Fractals choreographed by Kansas City Ballet Master Parrish Maynard.


At its essence, YAGP is the world’s largest dance scholarship audition and a global network for dance. It fulfills its mission through scholarship auditions, master classes, alumni services, educational and outreach activities, performances and films. Worldwide, more than 100,000 students have participated in YAGP’s workshops, scholarship auditions and master classes. Through regional semifinals results, students are selected to participate in the New York Finals each spring.


YAGP is an opportunity for the biggest dance and ballet schools in the world to see the talent that is out there. Often scholarships and other styles of ballet and forms of training are offered to students which can be nice validation for all of their hard work. In some ways, these judges watch these kids grow up year after year.

“Being part of this competition is great for students,” KCBS Principal and YAGP Coordinator Racheal Nye says. “It shows them what is possible with dedication and determination, but it also offers them a chance to cross state and country borders, as well as continental divides, to see what similarities and interests connect them to this global ballet community.”

This year’s seminars for students and coaches included:

  • How to be Noticed by Artistic Directors
  • Dancer Wellness
  • Career Guidance
  • How to Use Time in Class to Your Advantage
  • Dance in Higher Education


Nye says: “I’m always really proud about how we present ourselves overall as a school. The things I learn I get to bring back to our school to improve and grow for the betterment of all. My kids know when I come back from NY I’m excited and ready to implement here, so everyone benefits. When ‘spring-itis’ rears its head, it is the perfect time for an infusion of enthusiasm. I’m already turning my attention to next year.”


“Every year that we participate in YAGP, I am more and more impressed by our students.  It is wonderful to see the fruition of their hard word and dedication as they perform for peers, family and friends, and judges,” says School Director Grace Holmes. “The growth of our dancers is exponential when given the opportunity to work towards a performance goal. And the one-on-one work with coaches gives the students insight into how they can be their best dancer and artist. I am SO proud of their work and accomplishments!”

2019 Summer Programs Enrolling Now

Enrollment is underway for Kansas City Ballet School’s summer classes and camps for kids ages 2-18.

Summer is a great time to discover ballet. The classes are 4- or 6-week sessions that meet 1-2 times a week. Students and parents get a chance to see what the fall and winter semesters bring.

Summer camps meet 4 times in one week, with a performance during the final 15 minutes on the last day of class. Choose from the following camp themes: Little Mermaid, Fairy Princess or Storybook Ballet.

Additional courses and workshops are available for ages 8-18.

“Our summer programs are a great way for children to spend the summer – physical and artistic activity combined,” KCB School Director Grace Holmes says. “Students who already dance can maintain and enhance their training, and those who  have never danced before can try something new.”

If your child is interested in ballet, this is a great time to try it!


Click here to learn more or call 816.931.2299.


Photography by Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios

Teacher Profile: Lynley Von Engeln

Lynley Von Engeln grew up attending Pennsylvania Ballet’s Nutcracker. She enrolled at age 10 at a local dance school in Pennsylvania. Though she took classes in just about every genre, it was the elegance and expression of ballet that really drew her in.

She found she loved the balance of freedom and discipline the art form requires. “I was always very shy growing up (and still am at times),” she says. “But ballet gave me a way to express myself that always felt very safe.”


While attending a performing arts high school, Lynley had a chance encounter with an instructor from UMKC’s Conservatory for Music and Dance. It’s why she later enrolled there. Her start with Kansas City Ballet School came from a post graduate internship. She has since moved up the ranks from intern to instructor and Children’s Program and School Coordinator.


As a teacher, Lynley enjoys the constant learning cycle from student to teacher and teacher to student. “Even at the young age of 2, I am constantly learning new things from my students which helps me to grow as a teacher and a person,” she says. “I love getting to know each student and finding ways to spark their creativity.”

She admits she loves teaching little ones: “There is something so innocent and brave about that age, when they are unaware of the eyes of the world and any restrictions that might hold them back. They are SO creative and have no inhibitions in terms of movement or expression. I find it really inspiring and renewing to watch and teach young students. However, there are aspects of each level that I teach that I cherish.”

Growing up, dance was such an important part of Lynley’s life. It taught her discipline, expression, confidence, and so much more. For all of her students, she hopes to pass on the same experience and knowledge that she was given.

Lynley says, “Even if I had not gone into the arts as a profession, I feel as though studying dance made me a better, well-rounded person.”

Kansas City Ballet School 2019 Summer Programs are enrolling now for ages 2-18. Find out more about classes for kids and adults.

2019 YAGP Semi-finals Results

KCBS Students Jordan Noblett, Madeline Duritza, Claire Duritza, Colleen McKenzie, Juliette Rafael, Mina Vasiliya Stoyanova and Talia Lebowitz
KCBS Students Jordan Noblett, Madeline Duritza, Claire Duritza, Colleen McKenzie, Juliette Rafael, Mina Vasiliya Stoyanova and Talia Lebowitz

Kansas City Ballet School has now competed in Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) for four years—the last two years Kansas City has been the host. The competition took place at The Folly Theater downtown and the master classes were held at KCBS.

In 2019, KCBS submitted 71 solo entries, three pas de deux entries, and four ensemble entries for a grand total of 78 entries—up 15 entries from 2018. KCBS had students competing in every category. The Kansas City Semi-finals had 523 total entries.

“My favorite part of YAGP is seeing the progress in the students by the end of the year. And even though it is a competition, it feels like it brings us within our school and even the whole dance community together,” KCBS’s Principal and YAGP Coordinator Racheal Nye says. “Lots of supportive energy and learning from one another!”

A total of 18 coaches and choreographers worked with the students for approximately 35 hours of rehearsals per week preparing for the competition. This was outside of their regular ballet and dance classes. The list of coaches and choreographers include: Racheal Nye, Dmitry Trubchanov, David Justin, Debbie Jacobs-Huffaker, Sean Duus, Danielle Fu, Lamin Periera dos Santos, Dillon Malinski, Amaya Rodriguez, James Kirby Rogers, Taryn Ouellette, Amanda Moder, Austin Meiteen, Jeremy Hansen, Ryan Jolicoeur-Nye, Andi Abernathy, Duncan Cooper, Courtney Collado, and Parrish Maynard.

KCBS Students Kaylee Meinholdt and Paisley Park
KCBS Students Kaylee Meinholdt and Paisley Park


The accomplishments of KCBS students in this competition would not be possible without the KCBS staff and faculty. So much more goes into YAGP behind the scenes than most people realize. Planning starts now (March) for next year, coaches are identified and paired with students over the summer, and rehearsals start in August.

“I want to thank every coach, student, and administrator involved! I also want to shout out to Racheal Nye, who manages the project,” says Kansas City Ballet School Director Grace Holmes. “She goes beyond the call of duty, spending hours finding the right coach and solo for each student, taking into account each student’s technical ability and learning style.  She also spends hours working on music, getting accounts sorted, and making sure students have costumes. At the event, she was there for every student in need, whether they were our students or not.  We appreciate her SO much for everything she does for KCBS!”


Grace Holmes said: “I am SO proud of all of our students who participated in YAGP this year.  We had students representing our Academy from both Evening and Daytime Programs.  Every student worked so hard to present their best work in their moment on stage.  It is gratifying as a teacher and director to see our students grow through the process of learning, refining and performing their pieces.  Watching them grow as artists and achieve their goals is what it is all about.”

In addition to performing well on stage KCBS students were wonderful ambassadors for KCBS and Kansas City. Holmes believes this to be as important as the event itself.

Holmes admits the ballet world is very small and KCBS students will find themselves working alongside people in the future, who they danced alongside in their past. At YAGP, it’s the students chance to learn not only to share the stage but to foster an openness with other students. She deems this strengthens the dance community as a whole.

“When we start working on YAGP, we let our parents know that for the School, the priority is on the learning and growth experience, and not the competition awards,” Holmes says. “The awards are a reflection of our students’ hard work, but KCBS is proud of every student who participates regardless of the outcome. We see how hard the students are working and how much progress they are making, and that is the true reward.”


The YAGP Finals will be in New York April 12-19, 2019. Kansas City Ballet School has had students invited for the last four years and hopes to again. Invitations will go out soon.

Below is the list of recognition Kansas City Ballet School and students received at this year’s YAGP Semi-finals awards ceremony:


Outstanding School 2019


Pre-Competitive Classical (41 total entrants)

3rd Place: Chloe Kim

Top 12: Kaylee Meinholdt, Paisley Park


Pre-Competitive Contemporary (29 total entrants)

3rd Place: Paisley Park

Top 12: Kaylee Meinholdt, Chloe Kim


Junior Classical (120 total entrants)

2nd Place: Kathryn Benson

Top 12: Lillie Barr


Junior Contemporary (78 total entrants)

2nd Place: Hannah Hudson


Senior Classical Women (118 total entrants)

2nd Place: Talia Lebowitz

Top 12: Hannah Zucht


Senior Classical Men  (118 total entrants)

3rd Place: Timothy TV Cao


Senior Contemporary (98 total entrants)

Top 12: Timothy TV Cao


Ensembles (29 total entrants)

3rd Place: Duncan Cooper Continuum

Top 12: Parrish Maynard Fractals

Top 12: Racheal Nye Nocturne

Pas de Deux (10
 total entrants)

1st Place: (Tie) Talisman-Hannah Zucht/Timothy Cao
and Remembrance-Juliette Rafael/Timothy Cao



2018 YAGP NY Finals Results

2018 YAGP Results for KCBS

KCBS Competes: 2017 YAGP Finals in NY

KC Hosts Youth American Grand Prix


2019 Summer Intensive Auditions Begin

Auditions for Kansas City Ballet School’s 2018 Summer Intensive program begin today. After all, summer will be here before we know it.


Admission to Kansas City Ballet School Summer Intensive is by audition only. The five-week program is for students 11-22 years of age (females who have had a minimum of one school year of pointe work). Auditions kick off this Friday, Jan. 4 in Chicago and continue to 22 other cities throughout January and into February. Here is the complete list. KCBS will host two auditions: the first is on Saturday, Jan. 19 and the the second on Saturday, Feb. 16—the final audition.

Students unable to attend one of these may submit a video audition by Feb. 13 or try to schedule an appointment audition at KCBS.


Pre-registration fees are $30 in advance—these close the Wednesday prior to the audition. On-site registration fees are $40. In addition to fees, students will need to:

  1. Complete online Audition Form
  2. Attach photos to online Audition Form or bring to audition (4×6, with student’s name on the back)
    • Headshot (females with hair up)
    • First arabesque (females on pointe).


For more information about auditioning for Kansas City Ballet’s Summer Intensive, contact Kansas City Ballet School at 816.931.2299 or


Photography by Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios.

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

Cameron Thomas Benched

Kansas City Ballet company dancer Cameron Thomas started playing the piano around 6 or 7 years old. Encouraged by his parents, he took lessons until ninth grade and then continued studying music through school orchestra, music theory classes, and even independently.  Playing music has since evolved into a sort of hobby/passion project. In September, Kansas City Ballet Music Director Ramona Pansegrau hired him as a part-time accompanist for Kansas City Ballet School.

We asked Cameron about his experience on the piano bench and he had plenty to say.


A: It has always been something I do just for me without pressure or obligation.  Ballet is my passion for sure, but it is also a very demanding and often stressful job.  Don’t get me wrong—dance is well worth it, especially at a place like Kansas City Ballet, but it’s also nice to have music as both an escape and a means to make myself and others smile once in a while…  It’s fun!


A: If I were seriously pursuing music, it would be very difficult to balance it with ballet. Any discipline like ballet demands a fairly exclusive commitment at the professional level.  However, I was fortunate enough to build at least a decent understanding of music from a relatively early age, which has allowed me to more passively improve my own skills at the piano over a longer period of time. I have had stretches where I play often and see improvements, but also times when my workload demands I stop playing for a while. Over several years, I felt I had built a small repertoire of music I could use to play for ballet class, and our music director Ramona Pansegrau was kind enough to give me a shot. So far, so good.


A: Playing for ballet class is definitely not easy for a number of reasons beyond just knowing how to play the piano. Coming from a background of ballet, my challenge is probably different than that of most accompanists.  Often, the challenging part for a pianist is identifying what the appropriate time signature, tempo, quality, duration, or phrasing of a piece of music should be so that it actually works with a given combination.  Of course, good accompanists do this easily, but I would imagine it is a steep learning curve for those who are new to the vocabulary and structure of a ballet class.  Conveniently for me, I am very familiar with ballet, so that part has come fairly easily!  My challenge is the opposite.  Finding new music or tailoring music I already know to fit the needs of ballet combinations was harder for me as I have far less repertoire than a professional pianist.  Also I’ll openly admit, I have some limitations with how well I can actually play difficult music.  Luckily I listen and learn from the best every single day in class! Ramona has also been very helpful in providing me resources to help me out.


A: Huge yes, as I said in the last answer.  It’s way easier to figure out what to play for a given combination when you know the dancer’s perspective.  I find I can often anticipate what exercise is coming next, what tempo is appropriate, or how to phrase the music much more easily because I’ve taken so many ballet classes as a dancer.


A: That’s such an interesting question.  Definitely playing it, or at least listening to it in an active, constructive way. Though music is probably the single most significant inspiration for movement, I am usually just listening, not creating original movement.  Maybe that’s why I don’t have the choreographic bug.  Interpreting a choreographer’s vision of that music through movement is the really amazing part for me, but it is often the most challenging.  The way choreographers interpret music is often remarkably dissimilar from the way the music itself is written.  Sometimes it is challenging to hear more complicated music one way and have it set to movement in a contradictory way, but that is the case for all dancers.  Having a deep understanding of music really helps that process.


A: I play for our community engagement students from the R.O.A.D. (Reach out and Dance) program on Wednesdays and the adult beginner open class on Thursdays.  The R.O.A.D. kids are young (9-10 years old) so honestly they’re not always the most aware of the fact that I’m a professional dancer and what that might mean besides the fact that I dance a lot.  They do love the music though, it does not go unnoticed. The adults really enjoy it; they often ask about how I am doing or what the company is working on. They also know that I am relatively new to accompaniment as they are to ballet, and so it creates a light, fun environment.


A: What’s most surprising is how gratifying it has been.  Sadly, and I am guilty of this as well, most professional dancers are so accustomed to live music in the classroom that it has become an expectation.  We are far more inclined to notice when there is either something wrong with the music being played or no live accompaniment at all.  That has not been my experience with my classes thus far.  In the classes I play, live accompaniment is a novelty.  They greet me with smiles and positive feedback, sometimes even between combinations. I am grateful to have the opportunity to play for them.


A: Live music makes ballet class of all skill levels better. If done well, it changes the entire dynamic of a room and can make the class infinitely more productive and enjoyable.  We are lucky to have it here at Kansas City Ballet and I am so excited to learn how to hopefully bring that to a classroom myself.


Top photo by Tom Styrkowicz and 53Tom, LLC.

2018 Summer Intensive Recap

Photography: Andrea Wilson
Photography: Andrea Wilson

Kansas City Ballet School‘s 2018 Summer Intensive program ended today. To mark the occassion, students’ families watched an informal demonstration of what the students learned these past five weeks.

There were 167 students who attended this year’s intensive program. Of those, only 37 are current KCBS Academy attendees, the rest were chosen through auditions that took place across the country or through video auditions. The majority of students came from outside of Kansas and Missouri, and two were from outside of the U.S. Of these one is from Japan and the other from Bulgaria.

Besides learning from an incredible list of teachers and faculty from Kansas City Ballet, others included: Sarah Lane, Alicia Graf Mack, Olivier Munoz, Larissa Ponomarenko, and Mel Tomlinson. All couldn’t be happier with the students’ eagerness to learn or their progress during the program.

“The students who attended our summer intensive this year were amazing,” said Kansas City Ballet School Director Grace Holmes. “Their level of commitment, camaraderie and artistic spirit, took our program to new levels. I am so proud of all of the students who danced with us this summer and we are grateful that they and their parents chose Kansas City Ballet School.”

More PHotos

Kansas City Ballet School Director Grace Holmes praises the students for their hard work at this year's intensive. Photography: Andrea Wilson

Kansas City Ballet School Director Grace Holmes praises the students for their hard work at this year’s intensive. Photography: Andrea Wilson

Photography: Andrea Wilson
Photography: Andrea Wilson
Photography: Andrea Wilson
Photography: Andrea Wilson
Photography: Andrea Wilson
Photography: Andrea Wilson