A Chat With Kellis Oldenburg

We are loving our new instructor, Kellis, for her modern approach to teaching!  Below, we asked some questions so we could all get to know our Modern Start teacher a little bit better.

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Q: Could you tell us a bit about your training and career and how they’ve influenced you as a teacher?

My formal dance training began pretty “late” in my life. I had experienced dance through musical theatre and show choir growing up, but it wasn’t until I went to college that I started training exclusively and seriously in dance. I auditioned and was accepted into the University of Southern Mississippi dance program in 2006, and for four years, I trained extensively in modern and ballet techniques, dance composition, dance history, music analysis, dance pedagogy and performance. I received my BFA in Dance Performance and Choreography from USM in 2010, but I didn’t feel like I was finished learning. This desire for more experience and knowledge lead me to audition for NYU’s Tisch School of Arts, and I was accepted into their graduate dance program for the fall of 2010. I moved to New York City, and between 2010 and 2012, I studied under iconic ballet and modern dancers at Tisch Dance. The city itself was one of my most important “teachers,” and it taught me about perseverance, self-worth, tenacity and acceptance.

After graduating from Tisch, I took a teaching position with the dance department of Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi. While at Belhaven, I really started to define who I was as a teacher and artist, and my teaching philosophy grew exponentially during that time. I went on to teach simultaneously at Belhaven and at my Alma Mater, USM, commuting back and forth to teach various technique classes and lecture courses.

After teaching for a few years in Mississippi, I moved to New Orleans with my husband, where I auditioned for the Marigny Opera Ballet; a company that I am still a part of today. Marigny has allowed me to hone my technical and performance training even more as well as continue to strengthen my pedagogical knowledge and experience.

Every aspect of my training has contributed to who I am as a teacher. So much of my technique, class material, and philosophy is defined by those who taught me. Every time I teach, I am paying homage to my teachers, carrying their legacy with me. My continued technical training and performance experience also remind to be a “forever student.” I believe that to have the heart of a teacher, you must remember the thirst of a student.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about teaching?

I just really enjoy sharing my knowledge, skills and artistry with other people. I enjoy empowering my students to take the information I give them and shape it, make it their own and discover who they are in the process. Seeing that “Ah-hah!” moment when your student finally “gets” something or makes a revelation is the best feeling!

Q: What interests do you have outside of dance?

I am one of those people who loves to be busy, and if I’m idle or not moving, I get anxious and bored. I love to run, bike, and play various sports. I also teach and take yoga often because I love the full-body workout and the mind-body centeredness that it gives me. I enjoy spending time with my husband, friends and family. I’m a big fan of all of the arts, so I love going to movies, plays, music concerts, art museums, etc. Oh, and I LOVE ice cream!

Q: What’s been your favorite moment as an artist?

This is such a tough question! I have so many favorite moments, from dancing the lead role in Marigny Opera Ballet’s Giselle Deslondes last year, to choreographing musicals for my freelance career. However, if I had to choose, I would say that my favorite moment was in graduate school. I choreographed a piece in memory of my grandfather who had a huge influence on my life. Not only did I create the piece, but I also danced in it alongside my three best friends from grad. school. It was just such a beautiful moment for me: to dance with my dear friends about something so close to my heart.

Q: Any quick words of advice to your students?

Be a sponge. Not literally of course, but I encourage you to soak up everything you can from your teachers and your experiences. The more you know, the more you can grow. Know your weaknesses, but don’t let them debilitate you. Know your strengths, but don’t let them go to your head. Work hard. Be fearless. Be honest. Be open.