Posted on September 13th, 2012
For the Rockyettes dance troupe and their instructor Ann Kennedy, performing on stage is not just fun, but a joy and a unique privilege. As one member puts it, “We get back 10 times what we give.”
The Rockyettes’ history began in 1997, when their instructor, choreographer and inspiring leader, Ann Kennedy, started teaching Broadway dance and tap dance at the Apex PRD Community Recreation Center, 6842 Wadsworth Boulevard. The popular program appeals to a wide range of ages and abilities, with students moving from classes into the performing group by the instructor’s invitation.
Ann brings a unique mix of talents to the program: a lifelong love of dancing, skill and experience as a seamstress, and last but not least, a teaching style that exudes energy, enthusiasm and encouragement.
She took up dance in elementary school, did modern dance in college, taught home economics and danced with a jazz, tap and Broadway dance ensemble. Now, not only does she teach the routines and organize the performances, she also creates and sews all the Rockyettes’ costumes. “She does every stitch and every step,” says one of the performers.
Sometimes, the material for the costumes actually sparks the decision to perform a particular number. For example, one student pointed out that, among the infinite variety of the costumes, there wasn’t a single one that was orange. So Ann tracked down a song called “Orange” and you can guess the rest.
Certain basic ingredients make up a good stage costume. First and foremost, the dancer needs to be able to move while wearing it. Then, the material itself needs to be movable, flowy and wrinkle resistant. “The designs are usually A-lines, which look good on almost everyone. They also have to be simple and easy for quick changes,” Ann said. Most of the time the costumes include hats – for fun, dramatic effect and just to pull it all together.
When watching a Rockyettes performance, the community spirit, talent and dedication are impressive. However, it’s also evident that the costumes contribute to the energy and fun of it. One dancer jokes that “I like the fitness aspect but I’m really here for the fringe, sequins and feathers.”
All the dancers agree that dancing is one of the best things to do for overall fitness at any age. Many cite the importance of the mind/body aspect of the activity. As one dancer puts it, “You’re doing one thing while you’re thinking about the next thing.” Dance keeps the body fit, the mind sharp and the spirit soaring.
The Rockyettes can tell lots of personal stories of how the program changed their lives. One dancer describes how the group helped her cope with a long bout with cancer, including a bone marrow transplant. Each member of the troupe created a quilt square with a personal message and then they presented her with the finished quilt. “They were such a strong community of support,” she said. Another dancer discovered the Rockyettes after a severe auto accident that left her unable to work. “Ann Kennedy received the 9 Who Care award (community service award given each month by KUSA) and I decided to track her down and start dancing again.. “For me, it’s a give-back. I can move, walk and dance. The energy when we go to a venue is so incredible. The music touches so many lives with such good energy.”
For other Rockyettes, their involvement with the troupe was sparked by the fun and companionship they found in the beginner’s lessons. From there, Ann encouraged them and gave them a gentle, well-timed nudge of confidence. Here’s how one dancer describes her journey: “I was looking for something new to do; I had always wanted to try it. After taking the class, later Ann asked me to “move to the next level.” I thought about that, and said to myself, ‘Maybe this is something I can do.’”
Ann says there’s always some initial trepidation about performing. “When students first come in to the classes, they often say they aren’t interested in performing. Then they learn to enjoy the interaction with the audience. We love to share what we do; it’s a win all the way around.”
The Rockyettes put on about 30 shows a year, many at nursing homes and other facilities where residents have limited opportunities to see performances. “It’s great to see the pleasure we bring to the audiences at places where there aren’t too many visitors. Activity directors often tell us how much the residents responded to us following their visit, who tell them how they notice the responsivenesss of the residents.” Two of their favorite Jefferson County venues are the VA and the Developmental Disabilities Resource Center.
Besides the joy they get from sharing their talents with others, they all praise the friendship and community of the troupe. “There is an amazing amount of talent and a stellar teacher. No prima donnas! I often ask the other dancers for help with steps. Everyone is always happy to do so and very patient.” Another dancer cites the outstanding sense of togetherness and its potential for appreciating and nurturing her dramatic side, or as she puts it, my “great amount of hambone.”
Seeing and appreciating others’ potential has no age or ability limits. The current range of the Rockyettes is mid-30s up to 91. As Ann tells it, the 91-year-old “tap dances in a wheelchair. She can’t see or hear so well but she can dance. She’s an inspiration.” For all the dancers, it comes down to doing something outside their expectations of themselves, within a community of love and support. The results are simply spectacular!
The autumn tap and Broadway dance classes start in mid-September and continue through fall, winter and spring. Try it out for the fitness, fun, companionship and affordability! To find out more about adult and senior programs at Apex PRD call 303-425-9583.