Kathleen Senger of Peachtree City School of Dance: “Be flexible and adapt to change”

Be flexible and adapt to change. When I started planning for 2020, I could never imagine how this year would unfold. During this pandemic, I’ve learned how to use new technology so I could stream my classes online, reworked schedules to fit with my students’ school hybrid learning, and held my first outdoor full dance […]

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Be flexible and adapt to change. When I started planning for 2020, I could never imagine how this year would unfold. During this pandemic, I’ve learned how to use new technology so I could stream my classes online, reworked schedules to fit with my students’ school hybrid learning, and held my first outdoor full dance performance!

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kathleen Senger.

Kathleen Senger holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Dance (Cum Laude) from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. She began her early dance training in Toledo, Ohio with the Toledo Ballet under Marie Vogt and Velta Cernonok. Kathleen was a soloist with the Toledo Ballet dancing major roles in The Nutcracker, Les Sylphides, Les Patinuers, Star and Stripes and other Classical Ballet Repertoire. Kathleen was Adjunct Professor of Dance at Tyler Junior College, Cottey College, and Rockford College. She is a professional choreographer for Community Theater Groups and was on the faculty at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic High School. Kathleen is also an American Ballet Theatre certified teacher. The mother of three children is currently the Artistic Director of the non-profit Peachtree City Civic Ballet Company and Director of Peachtree City School of Dance. She makes her home with her husband, Bob, in Fayette County, Georgia.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I grew up in a home where the arts were valued. I was encouraged not to just participate but share my talents. Community involvement, being a positive role model, hard work, discipline, and creativity were strongly encouraged. This led to my love of teaching and also the desire to pursue entrepreneurship opportunities within the art of dance. Owning a business brings with it a responsibility to serve the needs of the community. I love being a part of Project Plie and bringing Classical Ballet training to underserved members of my community.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

My former teacher and mentor, Madame Cernonok, made a retirement move from Ohio to the same town in Georgia where I reside. Without realizing we were living just a mile apart, our paths crossed after more than four decades. It was such an honor to reconnect with her and share my gratitude for her role in my success. She even came and sat in the audience of one of my productions and spoke with my dancers afterwards.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I started in a very tiny space and quickly realized we were leaping into a wall! I learned to trust your vision and don’t short change yourself.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

The performing arts face significant obstacles in 2020. We know how important it is for our mental health to have an outlet to express ourselves and feel a sense of normalcy while staying safe during the pandemic. This is especially true for our children. That’s why it was so important to hold our annual Nutcracker performance. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I wasn’t going to give up. I am humbled by all the support our non-profit dance company received to embrace our outdoor, socially distanced performance and made it a reality. We were able to overcome so many difficulties because the community made an enormous effort to make the performance happen. Dancers, parents, volunteers, celebrities, and local agencies worked hand-in-hand to make sure the show would go on. We had over 100 dance families who needed financial help with tuition. We had to re-work the entire backdrop and props because there were no curtains to close like the theatre where the performance usually takes place. Members of the film and TV industry here in Georgia stepped in and assisted with lights, sound, and adapting scenery. One of our dance moms made face masks to match the costumes. At a time when communities face division, dance brought us all together. I’m happy we could work together for a positive common good.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

When community members, local businesses, and celebrities started to come together to help us raise money to put on our annual Nutcracker performance during this pandemic one person really stuck out to our dancers. Misty Copeland donated autographed items for a silent auction in support of dance scholarships. I surprised our senior dance company members and had them open the package with the signed memorabilia. They started jumping up and down and couldn’t believe that someone they admire is supporting their dance dreams. It was really an uplifting moment for these kids who have had a really tough year. Misty is truly a positive role model for young dancers!

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

1. Today, we need more funding for fine arts programs, especially during the pandemic. We must ensure the arts survive. Small businesses like Peachtree City School of Dance are vital parts of communities across the country. We are struggling and need both government funding and private donors to step in and help financially so we don’t lose performing art institutions forever. When families are struggling to put food on the table, extracurricular activities like dance classes are one of the first things being cut from a family’s budget. A child who wants to dance should be able to dance.

2.We need to expand Arts Education in schools. Students participating in the arts at an early age are proven to be more successful in academics. Fine art departments across the country are being phased out of our public school systems or budgets cut so deeply teachers can’t do their jobs.

3.We need more support and training for teens in the area of leadership, positive self-esteem, and anti-bullying. Our pre-teens and teenagers are vulnerable. Experts warn that with social media use they’re seeing higher levels of anxiety, bullying, and suicide in teenagers and young adults. As a society, we need to make sure they have outlets where they can safely express themselves and confide in trusted adults.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership to me is motivating a group to accomplish a goal. A strong leader can organize, share a vision, bring people together, overcome obstacles, be flexible, and be a creative thinker. A leader is respectful, insightful, and does what’s necessary for the greater good.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. A small business owner is always working and always on call. You’ll get early morning calls and late night texts for the smallest non-emergencies. YouTube is also wonderful when something breaks!

2. A small business owner feels a very deep sense of responsibility for employees and clients. They become family and you must treat them as such.

3. Be flexible and adapt to change. When I started planning for 2020, I could never imagine how this year would unfold. During this pandemic, I’ve learned how to use new technology so I could stream my classes online, reworked schedules to fit with my students’ school hybrid learning, and held my first outdoor full dance performance!

4. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Even if you experience a failure, you gain growth. You’re never too old to learn something new.

5. Enjoy each and every moment! Time flies by.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I want our children to grow up in a world where they feel valued, accepted, and talented. Our dance program believes each person is gifted in their own special way and that each talent is worthy and valued. If I could inspire a movement, it would center around these core essential values.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Everyone can make a difference. The most rewarding aspect of my job is when former students return and share what an impact our dance studio had on their life.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Hoda Kotb. I think she is intelligent, caring, funny, and wants to contribute as a positive role model for young women. She has such an optimistic outlook on life and shares that with the world everyday.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Follow non-profit Peachtree City Civic Ballet Company on Facebook where you can also make a tax-deductible donation on the pinned post. You can find Peachtree City School of Ballet on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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