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Gillman's School of Dance

Dance is more than a job for Gillman

By DON WARD
Editor


CRESTWOOD, Ky. – The absence of government regulation has allowed hundreds of dance schools to flourish throughout the country in recent years.
But few are run by professional dance instructors or by those with the true qualifications to teach.

Denise Gillman Burke

Photo by Don Ward

From left, school director
Denise Gillman Burke instructs
sisters Caroline, 7, and Charlotte
Rohan, 10, of Pewee Valley.

Denise Gillman Burke, a professional dancer with the Louisville Ballet, knows the problem too well. That's part of the reason why she decided to start teaching tap, jazz and ballet dance classes in her home last year.
The overwhelming response this year forced her to open her own dance studio, complete with a state-of-the-art hardwood sprung dance floor, mirrors and rails.
Her 1,000-square-foot studio, located just off Hwy. 22 in Crestwood, Ky., was built by her father, a contractor by trade. The building has plenty of room for her to expand with a second studio when, and if, the time comes.
For now, she can accommodate more than 100 dancers in weekly classes that range from age 3 to adult. Classes are organized into two semesters, with a recital planned around April. The second semester will begin in January 2000.
Burke, who teaches all the classes, recently finished her first semester at her new school. She had 67 students, which she considered good for summer.
She is now holding registration for her 12-week fall semester, which begins Sept. 13. The classes range in price from $70 to $80, depending on age.
Classes for 3-4 year-olds last 45 minutes. Classes for older students and adults are longer.
"The younger students – ages 3 and 4 – learn basic creative movements because at very young ages, you have to be careful to avoid injuries," Burke said. "Small bodies can't be turning out or pointing. We focus on marching, skipping and bending their knees."
Older students, however, explore all facets of dance, depending on the discipline.
"It's not like high school gym class, where you have kids running around screaming. It's a very organized session of instruction."
All classes are conducted to music and song. Students are responsible for purchasing their own tights, leotards and shoes, which these days can cost as little as $25.
"Some students really get into it and buy expensive dance clothes, but that's not necessary. You can get what you need at Wal-Mart," Burke said.
Graduates have many opportunities in the area, should they choose to pursue their talent. The University of Louisville has a dance program, as do several neighboring cities. Many colleges also offer scholarships in dance.
Seventeen-year-old Kim Biss of La Grange took classes this summer with Burke in preparation for her upcoming freshman semester at Butler University, where she plans to continue in dance.
"Denise was fundamental to my growth in dance," Biss said. "She has an incredible level of skill and compassion, which makes her a wonderful teacher."
The new dance school has been Burke's dream, after having spent much of her life as a professional dancer. She still dances with the Louisville Ballet and was in last season's productions of Don Quixote and The Nutcracker.
Her credentials are impressive. A member of the London-based Imperial Society of Teachers of Dance, Burke travels the world to teach dance. She recently returned from Vancouver, British Columbia, and plans an upcoming trip to Scotland.
She would like to continue performing but now must balance her career with her new school.
"Unlike some dance school instructors, this won't just be something I do on the side of my regular job, this is my life," Burke said. "My goal is to turn out dancers, so that one day I can watch my students in the Louisville Ballet."
A native of Ann Arbor, Mich., Burke began dancing at age 8 and later earned a scholarship to the prestigious National Ballet School of Canada, a Toronto-based boarding school for serious dancers.
She danced professionally in Pittsburgh for several years and became the Ballet Mistress, or chief instructor, at Carnegie Mellon University. She also spent four years working as a ballet dancer in Las Vegas, Nev.
"I was not a showgirl," Burke says with a smile. "This was serious stuff at the Nevada Dance Theatre."
She moved to Louisville three years ago when her husband, Jim, began flying for the United Parcel Service.
Denise also flies, but lands with elegance and grace. Although she's married now, she used her maiden name, Gillman, for her new school because it is a name that many in the dance world would recognize. The many plaques and certificates hanging in her new studio are testaments to her accomplishments.
"This school has been a dream of mine for a long time," she said. "I'm not in it for the money but to teach dance and promote the art locally.

Back to September 1999 Articles.

 

 

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