How Ballet Has Impacted These Three Former Kansas City Ballet Ballerinas
To celebrate KCB's 60th anniversary, three former ballerinas tell 435 how ballet impacted their lives.
Ballet is hard. Hard on the body and hard to master. Although, it’s not considered a sport, studies show that it requires the endurance of an Olympic athlete and demands more from the body than playing in the NFL. Now add in the artistic aspect of being a ballerina and you’ve upped the difficulty factor stratospherically. Yet for this trio of former KCB ballet dancers, the challenges and sacrifices were all well worth it.
Joni Hall – Teacher
It’s been more than three decades since Joni Hall was on stage with the Kansas City Ballet, although she has never stopped dancing. She took her first ballet class at age three and was hooked, saying, “I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t love ballet.”
Hall was only 14 years old when Todd Bolender, the then artistic director at KCB, saw her talent and encouraged her parents to let her train and dance with the ballet, which Hall divulged left her “equal parts terrified and exhilarated.”
The fifty-something ballerina says she adored dancing at KCB and her very best memory is, “the feeling of being part of something bigger than yourself. It’s just so breathtaking.”
For the last quarter century, Hall has been a ballet teacher at Priscilla and Dana’s School of Dance, in North Kansas City.
“I love the children and that in my job I can teach a 6-year-old all the way through a senior in high school. The difference in the brain space that takes is something else, which is probably one of the reasons I enjoy it so much.”
She says she also tries to teach her students that ballet is more than dance. It’s training for life.
“It makes you tough in the best possible way. You have to be resilient. You have to be willing to hear no and a lot of times not understand it. Maybe have a cry and then you get it together, work harder and prove yourself. Persistence is the key.”
Lisa Choules – Entrepreneur
Lisa Choules, 48, knows all about the commitment required to be a ballerina. She danced professional for 16 years, nine of those at the Kansas City Ballet. She says nothing in her life gave her better training for her current career. Choules is the founder and CEO of Elevé Dancewear. The largest custom leotard company in the United States.
“I started the company out of desperation. I’m tall and I have a long torso. I couldn’t find leotards that fit my body so I started sewing my own and that led to making leos for other dancers at KCB.”
She turned her sewing side hustle into a business opportunity once she retired from ballet. “I was a single mom with two young daughters and I needed to make money. I did research and even spent a summer in New York at the Fashion Institute of Technology to learn everything I could about design. When I got back to Kansas City, I was ready to start my business. I knew there was an unmet need in the market.”
Choules says her years of dance provided the foundation for her business success. “Ballerinas are always proving themselves. You have to have an ‘I can do this’ attitude. We don’t give up.”
In less than 10 years, Choules has launched a thriving business, not even daunted when a fire destroyed most of her cutting room and patterns, and is now expanding Elevé into the retail market.
She says she has dance to thank for her success. “Ballet is all about being a hard worker. I took that mindset and applied it to my company.”
Lisa Hickok – Arts Champion
Lisa Hickok is one of the “O.G.’s” of the Kansas City Ballet. She was trained by the grande dame and founder of the KCB - Madame Tatiana Dokoudovska. Hickok says “Miss Tatian” was the best of teachers – tough but tender.
“The discipline I learned in ballet, I have used throughout my life. But it even goes beyond that. Miss Tatiana taught us what it meant to do things right and more importantly, why we should care.”
Ballet was a family love affair. Hickok’s two sisters danced and her mother served on the original ballet board and at one time was the fledgling ballet’s wardrobe mistress.
Hickok’s passion become a launching pad for her career and volunteer endeavors. She worked as the marketing director for the Kansas City Ballet for five years and has become one of the most ardent supporters of the arts in the metro.
“It all goes back to ballet. It teaches you how to operate in life. How to be organized and how to get things done. Ballet made me who I am.”