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Park Perspectives: Behind the scenes of Sunset Dance Academy

Published: Tuesday, June 17, 2014 10:37 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Photo provided)
Sunset Dance Company performs on stage during the Rainbow Kids Artistic Dance Competition.

It’s hard to believe that ballet wasn’t always easy for the coordinator of the Geneva Park District’s Sunset Dance Academy, Katie Behrens.

Behrens was actually kicked out of her first dance lesson at age 3 because she would rather roll around on the floor than perform plies and pirouettes. It wasn’t until six years later that she was reintroduced to dance. This time she fell in love. Under the instruction of professional dancers, she was soon performing alongside college students in Northern Illinois University’s “Nutcracker” party scene.

When her parents purchased DanceScape studio after its owner had passed away, dance became Behrens’s life. She lived at the studio, dancing 15 hours a week. Eventually, she enrolled in Chicago Academy for the Arts, commuting by train for morning academics and afternoon dance classes. After high school, she completed a Bachelor of Arts in Dance at NIU, with a focus in ballet and modern techniques. While she had been teaching at her parents’ studio since the age of 15, Behrens decided to search for new opportunities after graduation in 2002.

“I no longer wanted to be the owners’ daughter,” Behrens said, “It was time to spread my wings. [Geneva Park District] called me back, and here I am.”

Here at Sunset, Behrens has expanded offerings from less than 30 to over 90 classes a week, featuring quality instruction from classically trained teachers. Known as “Miss Katie,” her days begin early with Tiny Toes and Mommy & Me classes, and end in the evening with classes for older dancers, some of which she has known since they were 2½ years old.

“Kids come in at different levels, with varying sensory and motor skills. So to see their progression and how the develop, that’s really rewarding,” Behrens said. “Children learn in a variety of ways, and dance incorporates all of them – visual, kinesthetic, verbal, auditory.”

“I see our oldest girls learning responsibility, time management and accountability. They learn how to take constructive criticism. Audition skills help them later in life with first impressions and job interviews,” Behrens added. 

The recreational program puts children first, with affordable, syllabus-based classes for all ages and skill levels in ballet, hip hop, jazz, tap, musical theater, lyrical and more. Its goal is to foster a love of dance with the hopes participants will continue to dance. Many Sunset dancers move on to make high school dance teams and win state titles. 

Behrens also has further developed the Sunset Dance Company program, which allows dedicated dancers the opportunity to study dance at a higher level of expectation. This “no-cut” company learns challenging choreography to perform at local community events and dance competitions. 

“Competitions aren’t about the big, shiny trophies, but about the experience of performing for hundreds on a stage under professional lighting,” Behrens said. “The company girls work as a team, and they become a family.”

Sunset Dance Company 2014-15 season begins in the fall with auditions Aug. 17. The “no-cut” auditions are open to dancers of all experience levels, ages 5 and older. An informational parent meeting will be from 6 to 6:30 p.m. July 15 at Sunset Community Center. Audition registration is required by Aug. 14. Questions regarding auditions can be emailed directly to Behrens at genevasunsetdancers@hotmail.com

Sunset Dance Academy has begun its nonrecital summer class schedule, but registration still is open. For information regarding Sunset Dance Academy, call 630-232-4542, or visit genevaparks.org.

• Natalie Seidel is marketing coordinator for the Geneva Park District and can be reached at 630-232-4542. Email her at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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