shows it's never too late to take up the joy of dancing
James has students from age 20 to those in their 70s, including
people who are rekindling a love of the art and people who
are new at it.
cold, blustery Thursday morning, but at the Kari James Dance
Network in Kirkwood, the advanced beginning jazz class already
has managed to steam up the floor-to-ceiling windows in the
front of the studio.
advanced beginning tap class is trying to nail down an intricately
choreographed sequence, accompanied by the Brazilian beat
of "Got to Get On This Train" from the motion picture
"Woman on Top."
step, scuff, step, heel, flap, double heel, toe, heel,"
calls out Kari James, as the class, paired off by twos, moves
gamely across the wooden floor.
she says encouragingly. "Now, faster, and with bigger,
never are a problem at the studio at 10030 Manchester Road,
but sometimes speed can be a challenge.
definitely isn't granny tap," says Charles Collins, 40,
who started tap a few months ago after studying jazz with
James for a year. "It's physically challenging, and it
involves a lot of brainwork. I do fine with patterns, but
the sequences? I need to slow down if I'm ever going to learn
fine with James, who makes it a point to adjust her teaching
to fit the skill levels of her students, who range in age
from their 20s to their 70s. Adult dance classes, a huge phenomenon
on both coasts at places such as New York's Broadway Dance
Center, are beginning to agin popularity here. And though
several area studios and community colleges, as well as the
Center of Contemporary Arts, offer occasional classes in,
say, adult ballet, the Kari James Dance Network is one of
the few that cater completely to adults, long past the pink
is not to say students are spared from performing in annual
recitals. Indeed, a recital in June at St. Louis University
High School attracted close to a standing-room-only crowd
that was treated to everything from a Bob Fosse "Steam
Heat" number to a can-can scene a la "Moulin Rouge"
all with age-appropriate costumes, of course.
part of James' philosophy that you're never too old to dance.
is great exercise, but it's more than aerobics; dance does
something for your soul," she says. "There's no
reason to quit just because you can't kick or jump as high
as you used to; you can use attitude and style to compensate
for physical limitations."
it was James' own longing to rediscover a childhood passion
that ultimately led to the creation of her studio. James,
who grew up in Pond, studied tap and ballet seriously from
age 5 through age 18.
was absolutely hooked on dance; it built up my self-confidence
and actually allowed me to speak," says James, 45, who
now lives in Kirkwood.
school, James took part in Miss Tap St. Louis and the Junior
Miss Pageant and says dancing enabled her to withstand interviews
and face audiences. Still, she says she gave up her dream
of being a professional dancer becasue she couldn't handle
the prospect of endless auditions. Instead, she went to college,
graduated in 1978 from St. Louis University with a degree
in accounting. After that, she began a corporate career at
years later, James says, she remembers walking past a dance
studio on her way to a hair appointment. "I stopped,
watched and was absolutely mesmerized," she recalls.
"I realized how unfulfilled I felt, how much I missed
long, she was dancing again, both taking lessons and occasionally
teaching. By 1987, she had made the decision to start her
own adult-oriented dance studio, called Steps Unlimited, in
were so few opportunities for audlts to experience any kind
of movement classes back then. If you wanted to dance, you
could usually count on being next to a 13-year-old in class,"
says James. "I was convinced there was a market for this,
but starting the business was the most frightening thing I've
seven years and "a huge learning curve," James shuttered
her studio, even though enrollment had tripled, to teach at
the Center of Contemporary Arts. Within four years, she had
expanded the program there to nine offerings a week, including
three levels of jazz and two tap classes.
ago, feeling the need for more independence, she opened the
Kari James Dance Network with partner Becky Gasbarre, 53,
of Kirkwood. Gasbarre, who grew up in south St. Louis County,
is another child dancer who rediscovered her love for tap,
ballet and jazz and managed to integrate it into her adult
life along with a 16-year counseling career with the St. Louis
County Juvenile Court, marriage and motherhood.
the time I met Kari, I had danced with the Fox Tellerettes
and started a program for children at St. Michael Parish in
Shrewsbury," says Gasbarre. "We clicked, both artistically
and as friends, and I agreed to teach with one provision:
that I never be required to put on a leotard again!"
there are very few, if any, leotards seen at this studio;
most students here wear sweats and T-shirts. But if their
dress is casual and loose, their attitude is anything but.
Kari James' classes, which also include hip hop and West African
dance, attract people who are seriously committed to dance.
Bearman, 77, of Ladue, who has been James' student off and
on for at least 20 years.
with Kari is pretty cerebral," says Bearman. "She's
just so inspiring. She pushes hard and expects a lot, and
nine times out of 10, she gets it."
James' regular classes, Bearman says she loves the master
classes offered with lumiinaries such as tap dancers Lane
Alexander, director of Chicago's Human Rhythm Program, Mark
Goodman of Los Angeles and Germaine Goodson of New York.
a little girl, I always wanted to perform, but when my ballet
teacher suggested I try out for the Muny chorus, my father
refused to let me, saying no daughter of his was going to
be on the stage," says Bearman. "So it's really
exciting to be able to dance now with someone who is famous
on Broadway. That's where we all want to be, at least the
next time around."
Bearman, Collins, who is the organist and choir director at
Second Presbyterian Church in the Central West End, is a relative
newcomer to the world of dance. He began by taking ballet
class at his gym, St. Louis Workout, and before long, found
himself migrating to Kari James.
a musician, I was curious about how others involved in the
arts, like dancers, think," he says. "I've found
that getting your body to do what your mind says can be quite
a challenge. Kari's classes are demanding, but there is something
very freeing about them, too."
from physical pain is what brought Janis Murray of Ladue in
the studio. Two years ago, she ruptured two discs in her neck.
After six weeks in bed, she began physical therapy, and was
advised that the best exercise program she could follow was
one that involved complicated but nonrepetitive movements.
realized that meant dancing," says Murray, who studied
ballet, tap and jazz all the way from preschool through college.
"I grew up in the 60s, when there was no Title IX and
no sports programs for girls. My mother wanted me to be graceful,
so I danced."
"a 20-year hole," which included graduate school,
a journalism career, marriage and motherhood, Murray started
dancing again with James. Not only did it relieve her neck
pain but it also proved to be a great way to relieve stress.
is as strenuous as any aerobics class I've taken," says
Murray, a partner in MediaMasters. "But because you have
to focus intensely on what you're doing you just can't
think about other things you come away from it with
complete peace of mind, like yoga."
one other bonus to dance classes, adds Murray: camaraderie.
"Dancers are gregarious, but they also have to take chances
and share vulnerabilities. There's a real sense of 'We're
all in this together' at the studio," says Murray. "The
atmosphere is very inclusive; you get to stay fit in an artistic
way, wiht great music and a happy environment."
Seldin, 41, of Ladue, goes a step further when she describes
her experience there.
makes me feel like a kid again," says Seldin, who started
dancing at age 3 and recently returned to tap and jazz after
a 15-year hiatus. "Having the opportunity to do something
as an adult that gave me such pleasure as a child it's
Renee Stovsky; St. Louis Post Dispatch