Dance + Fitness = Firm Fun

Kim Johnson-Rockafellow‘s Barre Workout, one of our many Dance Fitness classes, is my class of choice these days. Was it Mark Twain who said, “Often imitated but never duplicated”? Kim is the real deal. Dancer/Choreographer extraordinaire, don’t worry about getting bored in her workout.

People of all ages and abilities show up for Kim’s class, including me, whenever I can make it. Student’s love the focus on alignment and mix of movement, stretch, weights, bands, balls, barres and mats (all to great music). Your entire body gets stretched, strengthened, firmed and it’s fun. You can’t beat that. But don’t take my word for it, read below to get a student’s perspective. Melissa Schoeffel is a senior lecturer in the Department of English at UW-Milwaukee, wife and mother of two sons.

The Body’s Own Resistance
by Melissa Schoeffel

Melissa and her boys at Meteor Crater in Arizona

The second side is always harder. That’s the bit you should remember when you show up for your first Dance Fitness class. It encapsulates what I’ve learned over the last few years. The second side is harder because even though you haven’t worked that side yet, your whole self is involved in working the first side, and your whole self is that much more tired for it. The second side is harder, but it’s where you learn about holding back and holding on—remembering to hold a little in reserve even while you give it everything you’ve got, and pushing those tired muscles through to the end of the routine, to the end of the class. The second side is about exploring the connections between the parts and the whole.

I started taking Dance Fitness when my youngest child started all-day, four-year-old kindergarten. It was the first time in many years that I felt like I could afford—in terms of both time and money—to take a couple of hours out of my work week to work out. Looking back, I realize how desperate I was to reclaim a body that had been given over to motherhood, to reclaim the ability to move that body in particular ways that I had long since abandoned. I was struggling with depression and wanted the exercise to buoy my mood, and I wanted to do something that was just for me.

In order to do this thing just for me, I had to, paradoxically, go into it without any illusions about what it was going to do for me: I wasn’t going to burst onto the beach the next summer with a “bikini body”; I wasn’t going to shed all the pounds I had accumulated since having two children and watching my metabolism slow to a late-thirties crawl. I didn’t need to look like I was in my twenties again; I just needed to be healthier, happier, and to recapture some of what it used to feel like to move.

Kim Johnson-Rockafellow Artistic Manager
Kim Johnson-Rockafellow
Artistic Manager
I got more than I bargained for, because what I realized, fairly early on, is that even as I was feeling better (and looking better, I suppose), the best of what was happening was that I was feeling stronger. Because of the sweaty time I’ve spent wrestling with what our lovely instructor, Kim Johnson, will tell you is my “body’s own resistance,” I joyously found out that I could carry my five-year-old all the way home from the lakefront to Riverwest AFTER the Fourth of July fireworks. That’s two miles of walking at the end of a long night and carrying 42 pounds of a load that alternated between wriggling, whining child and dead weight. I can carry the heck out of some groceries too, and I have a physical understanding of what Kim is talking about when she says “shoulder girdle,” because I actually have one of those now. Even though my oldest child still calls me “Mush,” while affectionately (and irritatingly) poking me in my softer parts, there’s iron underneath there. And let’s face it, Mushy Mama can dance.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that something else that keeps me coming back, week after week, is that I get to be a part, albeit a small one, of the Danceworks community. I knew about Danceworks’ investment in the Milwaukee community before I started taking a class there, and I remember hoping, beforehand, that I would love the classes and the people as much as I loved the idea of Danceworks. I do. If I’m going to spend my money paying someone to make me sweat (a lot) twice a week, this is the mission and vision I want to support.

“Fun times with dance,” Kim wryly quipped the other morning, as we sweated through a routine that was a little extra challenging. Though it was clearly meant to be gently ironic in that particular moment, I was struck by how true it was of my whole experience with Danceworks.

With her husband
With her husband Martin enjoying Lakefront Brewery together

Melissa is so much more than a small part of Danceworks. She and her family will be moving to West Texas soon and we are really going to miss her. But, I’ll be working on Skyping her into class. Once a Danceworker always a Danceworker.

We are happy to announce the launch of our new website (September 4) and online scheduling and registration system. Our new system will make it easier to sign up for classes, review your purchase history and monitor your personal account. Sign up for your Fall class now: Register here.

Thanks for visiting my Blog. Is there something you’d like to know more about…? Please let me know. –Deb Farris, Executive Director


Joyful Noise

We have a really family fun Tap concert coming up–Danceworks On Tap (DOT): Joyful Noise.

Danceworks on Tap
DOT Photo credit: Mark Frohna

Flash back: you can bet there was a joyful noise around here when I received word five years ago from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation (GMF) that they would help fund a Director of Development and Marketing position at Danceworks. A first Development Director is a big step for a nonprofit. Until that critical point, the executive director is left to figure it out or farm it out.

Elyse Cohn
Elyse Cohn

So thanks to GMF, it was a new era at Danceworks. Elyse Cohn came highly recommended in the world of arts organizations in Milwaukee. Skylight, First Stage and the Rep were all on her vita. It was a slam dunk when I found out she also danced. We’ve been through a lot together and that song, “Wherever We Go, Whatever We Do, We’ll Muddle through It Together” comes to mind.

Deb: So, I know how happy I was to have you join the Danceworks team, but, seriously, what was it like for you?

Elyse: I was looking for something that was similar to my days at First Stage–a place where there had been a lot of growth but there was still a lot of potential for further growth ahead. It was important to me to feel I was a part of the organization’s inner working and to feel that my presence could make a difference. A focus on children is also inspiring to me.

I’d been chasing that elusive work/life balance. I have two kids – busy ‘tween years. Danceworks allowed me that flexibility as long as the work got done. Here, the people are as important as the work. I remember being “reprimanded” by my boss (You!) that I had to make time to dance!

At how many work places are you told to make time to do something good for yourself? It works though, because it feeds back into the work you do. You get to experience the organization firsthand—you see it, you feel it, you do it. To do it is to know it, to understand it. That to me is much more fulfilling than just sitting in the office writing about it.

I had done some musical theatre after college, but I had not danced in years. I started with Pat Marquardt Studios when I was in Kindergarten, then I went to Esther Moody and on to Dance Spectrum where I studied with Katherine Kersten and Pam Kriger.

Elyse 2nd from the right Katherine Kersten
Elyse looking at the camera
with Katherine Kersten

I left ballet in seventh grade and started taking tap—danced all through high school. I stopped dancing when I got to college and sort of regretted that. Pam taught me Musical Theatre Dance at the JCC after college, but it had been about 15 years since I strapped on my shoes.

Deb: What was that first class like?

Elyse: Oh gosh, my first class was with Amy – 50+ Tap I, and I swiftly added on 50+ Tap II. It came back quickly. But remembering combinations was way harder, and balance was trickier than it used to be! I would be able to get a combination fast in the old days. The 50+ class was so great because it let me move at a slower pace—there was more repetition. Then I moved on to Tap III and left I and II in the dust.

Deb: Do you have goals for Tap this year?

Elyse: My aspiration is to be present—to be in class more. There are so many grant deadlines. But if I’m out for several weeks, the homecoming is always great!  Some in my classes have surgery and are gone, some are snow birds. The spirit is wonderful. We’re a family. I started doing tap workout, which brings in weights and general fitness. I love it!  My goal is to take one or the other each week, or both if possible. My father-in-law is going to be signing up for Tap I this fall. With my daughter Ariel tapping too, we can do a family talent show.

Deb: Perhaps for the annual meeting! You can be the Von Tap family dancers!

Elyse: Perhaps not.

Deb: What has been most rewarding about your work here?

Elyse: It’s always great to get a grant or a new contribution, but what’s rewarding is to go to the program and see what the money is doing. When I bring a prospect or a donor into the schools and I get to see them experience it for the first time, it’s always uplifting. The (Mad Hot Ballroom and Tap) competition is a long day, but it’s the best day. It’s a day I feel especially proud of what I do.

MHBT Competition at  BMO Harris Bradley Center
MHBT Competition at
BMO Harris Bradley Center
Photo Credit: Paul Ruffolo

Ariel and I never miss the Danceworks on Tap concert. For people who don’t know tap, it’s surprising to see that it isn’t made up of hoofin’ alone. There’s a lot of inventiveness, with influences from all different dance forms. It’s very inventive. You watch and say, “I never would have thought of that.”  There aren’t many tap concerts around town. This is really it.

Danceworks Outreach Director and DOT member      Rachel Payden with Dylan Baker; Photo: Mark Frohna

My parents enjoy it as well as my children. My husband not so much, but that’s just him. Many husbands do! It thrills me to have something I can share with my family. Being able to share my work with my family is as important as finding a balance with my work.

Danceworks works for me. It really is about making a joyful noise.

Danceworks on Tap
Danceworks on Tap
Photo credit: Matt Haas

Come enjoy!  You can get your tickets here for Danceworks on Tap this weekend.  Thanks for visiting our blog!  –Deb Farris

“Kids Say the Darndest Things”

It’s true; they still call me “Miss Debbie,” but it’s been a long time since I’ve taught pre ballet classes.

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A Pre Ballet and Tap class

There was a stretch in my life when I taught eight a week. I remember my first class vividly. I had the good fortune of working at a studio (Ballet School of Chapel Hill) which had exceptional faculty and great creative dance curriculum. M’Liss Dorrance prepared me well, and I planned my first lesson carefully. It was great—except I was done with the entire class plan in ten minutes, leaving 35 minutes left to fill and nine little faces staring up at me. So I imagined what it was like to be four years old again and had a lot of fun with them.

I learned how to pace myself and also learned that kids are a lot smarter than you think they are. I learned quickly that these were big people in little bodies—their personalities well formed. When I stopped talking to them like they didn’t understand English, we had a great time. Just as a side note—there were often big tears in front of whomever it was who brought them, but as soon as the door closed, long faces turned into happy ones and they were ready to go.

Technique was never talked about; everything was approached from a creative perspective. We opened and closed a big flower with points and flexes. Pliés in second position were French doors opening and closing. Ronde de jambs were trips through the forest that finished with cups of tea in the castle—you would get there (en dehors) and have to return home (en dedans). Grand battements were the Three Bears.

The studio was filled with horses of different colors that galloped across the diagonal, and you got to ride your favorite color. Piqués were Prince and Princess walks, and there was an imaginary wardrobe filled with costumes that we were constantly returning to. We splashed and tiptoed through puddles. We made popcorn along with raindrops, lightning and thunder. We jumped over the river high enough so the crocodile couldn’t bite your feet. You get the idea.

My classes grew larger, but I became a better teacher and was able to manage them with the same level of delight and structure. I learned as much as my little dancers. I learned quickly that when recital time came, they were able to show that they had indeed learned a lot through carefully choreographed little “dances” made just for them.

Though I don’t teach these classes anymore, I have been so impressed with our Danceworks youth faculty because I believe they fully embrace and imbue Danceworks’ joy, health and creativity.

I visited one of our four-year-old classes on a recent afternoon, thinking I could do an interview with the students and ask why they liked coming to Danceworks. I entered and found a circle of stars—one for each student to sit on. There was one extra. I sat down and we exchanged our names. I used to have students clap their names as they said them—I should have remembered this; it makes it so much easier.

I asked my first question:  Why do you like to dance?


Aya:  We have an extra star!


Nina:  (Drums her hands on the floor.)

Emunyah ( Muni) and Minnie

Muni:  My Mom brings me. I come here every week.

Minnie: I like marching.

Alexander (A.J.)

A.J.:  I get to tip toe.

Aya:  It’s so much fun running and dancing at home.

Moving on to question number two:  What do you like about your teacher?

Nina:  I like wearing tap shoes.

A.J.: (Silence—Okay, maybe not the best question.)

Minnie:  She teaches me to dance. (There we go.)

Muni: She teaches flips and hops. (Ms. Faith is nine months pregnant …just saying.)

Last Question:  What do you like best about putting your dance shoes on?

A.J.: Tapping!

Muni:  Ballet!

Minnie:  Marching!

Nina: (taps her feet on the floor. Nina likes rhythm.)

Aya:  Running!

I remembered why I liked teaching these little guys. You never know what to expect out of them—they keep you on your toes. They say what they think, they are full of life and they love you unconditionally. –Deb Farris

Plié – to bend ankles, knees and hips
Ronde de Jambe – circle of the leg; en dehors – outward; and en dedans – inward
Grand Battement – great beat
Piqué – to prick

Learn more about youth classes at Danceworks here. Our fall session registration is going on now, and the session begins September 4, 2013!