Dancing: A Worthwhile Commitment
Tuesday, March 19, 2024
Grace Johnson dancing in the studio

There comes a point in every young dancer’s training when they choose to prioritize their dance training or to pursue other interests. While it is always bittersweet to see young students pursue other interests, we are continually inspired when witnessing students who have chosen to keep dancing, hone their skills, and develop their artistry. This month, we are featuring two former students of the UI Youth Ballet who have continued to develop their dancing over time and distance.

Dance Teacher and Choreographer 

Grace Johnson demonstrates what can be accomplished by sticking with training at the UI Youth Ballet and Community Dance School.  

Grace started dancing with the Youth Ballet program when she was 8 years old and continued until her senior year of high school. During her time dancing with the Youth Ballet, she was taught by Miss Kathy, Jason Schadt, Alaine Hippee, Britta Lazenga, and Kristin Marrs. Grace performed in 10 spring concerts including Paquita, Chopiniana, and Souvenirs. Below are some words from Grace as to why these 3 spring concerts were influential in her dance education: 

“Paquita was the first show I had ever had a principal role! It was so fun and challenging to get to be the lead, and I absolutely loved every minute of it. Paquita was also a huge lesson is how to work with a corp de ballet and actually dances together. Chopiniana was the first show where I had choreography specifically tailored to me, and danced a work that was completely original. That show is a show that heavily influenced how I choreograph now.  Souvenirs holds a really special place in my heart because it was a really bittersweet show. There was a group of seniors graduating who I had danced with for about 8 years, and it was hard to know it was the last time that I would be dancing with them. Kristin Marrs choreographed that ballet, and it was simply amazing.” 

ballet dancers warming up in dance studio
Grace Johnson, second dancer on the left, on pointe while in Ensemble

Grace started her teaching career with us by assisting both Level 1A and Ensemble with Kristin Marrs during her senior year of high school. She also began choreographing for the Youth Ballet in her senior year of high school, by choreographing for the Level 1A group that year. Grace was a long-time student of the program and now teaches Levels 3-5 Ballet and Pointe. She also choreographs for the Ensemble. 



Pre-Professional School Training 

Claudia in Le Corsaire

Claudia Minor, long-time student of the UI Youth Ballet and Community Dance School, has now progressed her dance career past the program to a pre-professional dance school. You might recall Claudia in last year's modern duet with Gabe Hahn, Bolero, choreographed by Joan Gonwa for the Spring 2023 Concert, Coppélia.  

3 year old Claudia Minor
Claudia Minor, 3 years old, in Wee Dance class.

Claudia started taking dance at the UI Youth Ballet and Community Dance School when she was three years old and took classes with the program until spring 2023 when she moved to Chicago to pursue pre-professional training.

Claudia currently attends the pre-professional dance program at A&A Ballet in Chicago. In this pre-professional dance program, she dances from 9AM-2:30PM Monday through Fridays and 12-3PM on Saturdays. Because of this rigorous dance schedule, Claudia is finishing her academics online. In addition to dancing, Claudia has begun her teaching career as a teaching assistant for children’s classes on Saturday mornings before her own classes begin. 

Claudia’s goals for transitioning to a pre-professional dance school are to dance for a professional dance company then teach someday. She has spoken about her desire to come back to the Youth Ballet to teach in the future.

Claudia’s mother, Lori Minor, expressed how the UI Youth Ballet and Community Dance School shaped Claudia into the person she is today:  

“The Youth Ballet and Halsey Hall have been such a special part of Claudia’s life. It was the first activity I ever enrolled her in. She still remembers singing “Beat is Steady” with Miss Kathy in Wee Dance and said that will be part of her curriculum some day! Claudia has always loved classical ballet and never enjoyed situations that were loud, with a lot of people. Claudia loved the live piano and Douglas! The small class sizes allowed for individual attention. She always felt she was truly cared about. The nurturing, non-competitive environment allowed her to feel safe. The teachers and friendships she made will always be a special part of her, and she said that the teachers were role models she thinks about when she is helping to teach children. She also mentioned that she loved the disciplined classes that allowed her to truly focus and learn.”  

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