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Here we go! I’m excited to share my interview with Kansas City Ballet’s Kimberly Cowen, who will be giving her final bow on May 13th. Enjoy!

Courtesy KCB Photography Steve Wilson

Kimberly Cowen in "La Sylphide" Courtesy of KCB/Photography Steve Wilson

MD: You left home pretty early to join Kansas City Ballet. Can you tell a bit about what that experience was like?

KC: I went to the Kansas City Ballet School summer program and there I met Todd Bolender. He showed an interest in me and wanted to keep in touch. For the next four summers, I returned to their summer program and also performed in their production of the Nutcracker in St. Louis as a student. I had reached a point in my training where I needed more. He then invited me to come to Kansas City and work with him as a student apprentice. With the help of the school administrator, Flo Klenklen, I moved to Kansas City and became a full time student in the ballet school and a student apprentice with the company. This all seemed to happen very quickly and in the first 6 months I did worry about whether I did the right thing. I graduated early from high school to achieve this. I had the support of my parents to help guide me. My mom moved to Kansas City with me for the first year and we became very close during that time. All of this worked out for me, but I will admit that I wouldn’t recommend this for everyone. Yes, it gave me a jump-start at a career that is for the young, but as ballet has evolved over the years I believe more people are seeing the value in a mature dancer.

MD: You are one of the most grounded dancers I have ever met. How did you come to be this way?

KC: Even when I was a child I always said I wanted to just be a normal kid. I wanted to experience other things that kids my age were experiencing. At a certain age, yes a lot of sacrifices have to be made in order to develop at the rate that is expected of you. But with that said it encouraged me to spend my time away from dancing doing other things. I also had and still have a very loving and supportive family that helped me stay on the right track.

MD: How did you balance having a “normal life” with your professional life?

KC: It is extremely important to look at the big picture to have a greater understanding of how you can be successful. Although ballet means the world to most if not all ballet dancers, it is healthy to remember you are not curing cancer. Your whole purpose as an artist is to enrich the lives of your audience. Therefore, it is good to put yourself in their shoes from time to time. It also keeps you fresh and ready to really engage yourself when you are dancing if you have others things to fulfill you as a person. Staying positive is an absolute must if you want to make it as a dancer.

Kimberly Cowen in "The Still Point" Courtesy of KCB/Photography Steve Wilson

MD: What made you stay with KCB as long as you have?

KC: First, I am happy here. Once upon a time dancers had to travel from company to company to experience different styles or choreographers. Kansas City Ballet has offered me a very diverse rep. I have constantly been challenged and inspired. I also am a strong believer that you must invest yourself wherever you choose to go. You only get out what you put in. You do need to focus on finding a place that fits with your personality, but just like everything in life no place will be perfect, so focus on the positive.

MD: How and when did you come to the decision to retire?

KC: Let me start by saying I absolutely love dancing and in a perfect world I would never have to retire. I made the decision for myself in December but sat on it for about a month before acting on it. I wanted to look at it from every angle before I uttered the words out loud. I realized I wasn’t searching for the next thing to inspire me, I felt content and fulfilled. You need to have that push that desire that carrot dangling in front of you to keep pushing as a dancer. I would never want to be less than what I expect out of myself, so I realized it was time.

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MD: You are staying in the Kansas City Ballet family with your new position as Associate Director of the school, but you won’t have the same correspondence with your current colleagues as you do now. How do you plan to stay invoved? What kind of shift in your interaction with the “family” you’ve created over the past 20 years do you anticipate?

KC: I know that in time they will forget about me. I have seen it happen over and over again. I have been able to keep the memories of past dancers alive in our company because I have been here so long. I feel it is important to know the history of the place you work. I can only hope that someone will keep my memories alive for me when I’m gone. I know I have life long friends that I have made with my time in the Kansas City Ballet. I have always enjoyed trying to help the other dancers when they need some advice. Not just about their dancing, but about how to deal with things that come up in your life in a company. I hope to be able to still provide that encouragement and understanding of what they are going through.

MD: Speak a bit about artistry. What advice would you give dancers to try to find the balance between art and life?

KC: To me, artistry is what makes or breaks you as a dancer. There are a lot of talented dancers out there. What makes you special? How can you make your mark? Sure being able to do 15 pirouettes and having your leg hit the back of your bun in arabesque that at first glance may give you an edge. But I’m not talking about technique. We all know you have to have good technique to get a job. When you think about it, as humans everything we do comes from an emotion. Sure when you are on stage there is tremendous beauty in ballet but if you can find a way to add emotion into your steps you have artistry. This helps you connect with the audience. They came to the Ballet to feel something, tapping into that can be your biggest asset. I realize not every Ballet has a story, but you have to put thought into each step and make it come out the way you want it to not the way someone told you to do it. That part of coaching is to get you headed in the right direction then it is up to you to take it to the next level. It is very important to be who you are so that when you dance it is a real portrayal. We all have role models and can be inspired but you have to make choices that come out of you naturally. All of your life experiences come out in your dancing so remember to be complete as an artist you must be complete as a person.

Part II coming soon.

Written by Matthew Donnell

Matthew Donnell

A graduate of North Carolina School of the arts, Matthew Donnell is a freelance dancer, actor, clown, instructor, and film maker residing in NYC. After a decade with the Kansas City Ballet, he turned his focus toward musical theater and teaching. He strives to bring the humor of his life into his art in order to promote artistic health for himself and those around him.