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Friday, 24 January 2014 11:33

Elkhorn ballet studio grows gracefully

Written by  Edwin Scherzer
Colleen Huberty, known to many as Miss Colleen, is celebrating the 10th anniversary of her Elkhorn ballet school. Toe to Toe Ballet School started in the Huberty home and has since grown to a twice-expanded studio in downtown Elkhorn. Colleen Huberty, known to many as Miss Colleen, is celebrating the 10th anniversary of her Elkhorn ballet school. Toe to Toe Ballet School started in the Huberty home and has since grown to a twice-expanded studio in downtown Elkhorn. Terry Mayer

 WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY — There are those who would say dancing is a lost art form — abandoned somewhere between graceful ballroom movements of the early 20th century and the raves of today’s digital generation. But Colleen Huberty says, “If you’re not dancing, you’re wasting your feet.”

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While most of us spend our entire lives never touching a dance floor, Huberty has spent a lifetime being immersed in everything dancing.

Simply known as Miss Colleen to her students at Toe to Toe Ballet School in Elkhorn, Huberty, now 50 and celebrating 10 years in business, is a classic tale of someone who has boundless energy and who has never stopped doing what she loves.

Soon after she was old enough to walk, Huberty was dancing. By age 21, she graduated from the Esther Moody ballet program in Wauwatosa. She not only danced for them, she taught for them and performed with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra through them.

Huberty then moved away for a time to Green Bay. She and her husband, Michael, started their family of four children — all boys. Once Huberty moved back to Walworth County, the art form she had loved as a child made its way back into her life again.

“I had friends who knew I had previously taught, and I arranged for private lessons in my dining room,” Huberty said.

From home to studio

The dining room soon shrank, however, as a handful of summer students grew to be a dozen. She staged lessons and a small performance at St. Patrick’s Parish School in Elkhorn. Labor Day rolled around, but Huberty didn’t realize her work was just beginning.

“I thanked the dancers’ moms and they said, ‘What do you mean, we’re not doing this in the fall?’” she recalled.

There was only one logical step.

“My husband said, ‘I’m going to put in a floor, some mirrors and barres, and all of sudden we opened a home studio with a dozen students,” she said.

They finished the year with 20 students and performed their first ballet, “A Sudden Appearance.”

Year two would see Huberty’s enrollment grow to 50, still within her home.

“People would be in our living room, dining room and asking what smelled so good in the kitchen,” she said, still laughing when she added, “but my husband then said, ‘Honey, I love you, but you gotta get these people out of my house.’”

So Miss Colleen, a certified instructor through the Chicago National Association of Dance Masters, opened Toe to Toe Ballet School in downtown Elkhorn, which has since seen two expansions. It’s there where Huberty performs her ultimate, personal pointe work, moving between her actual family and her ballet family.

“I think anything you do as a mom is a difficult balance, and I watch these moms that bring their kids in, knowing what they’re going through,” Huberty said.

Like mother like son

Huberty has four sons: Aaron, 23; Sam, 16; Nathan, 14; and Joe, 11. The youngest three dance, while Aaron is geared more toward the outdoors and engineering, she said.

Sam, a high school sophomore, has been dancing most of his life. He doesn’t see it as work, nor did the early adolescent teasing faze him.

“They (other boys) used to say stuff, but then they saw a picture of me with all these pretty girls and they said, ‘How did you do that?’ And I said you have to dance.”

Like his mom, Sam went from learning his pliés to teaching foot position. He instructs the boys class at the studio, a lively group of 6- to 9-year-olds.

The boys class that Sam teaches is more focused on jumping than pirouettes, conditioning for lifting the ballerinas and good-natured competition.

Sam doesn’t benefit from nepotism just because mom owns the ballet studio. He had to apprentice for a year, then assist for a year after that to be allowed to instruct.

There came a natural point in time when Sam was ready to pick up something other than ballet shoes, but he said a scholarship and a trip to New York changed his mind.

“I wanted to try something else (soccer), and then I spent the summer in New York with guys from my level to pre-professional, and I met a lot of my friends I still talk to,” Sam said.

Sam plans to keep dancing, with hopes to get on with a company, possibly work with Cirque de Solei or Six Flags. His long-term goals involve dance and physical therapy, because the language of ballet is different, he said.

“They (dancers) might say I hurt this doing a plié or a tendu, and it hurts to do this, and it helps to have the background knowledge to deal with that injury,” he said.

Like Sam’s dancing friends, Huberty’s former students are scattered across the globe, many connected through Facebook and other social media. Some of those former students credit Huberty with giving them the discipline to succeed — from work on the ballet barre in the studio to their real-life workplace.

Karina Virrueta, 23, an Elkhorn Area High School graduate, danced for Huberty since the beginning of the home studio.

“Having danced most of my life, I can definitely see the many benefits now that I am older,” Virrueta said, adding that the relationship with Huberty and the dance studio prepared her for a professional career.

“I stand taller and I’m more confident in what I say and do,” said Virrueta, who holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and works as an associate research specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “I’ve had to dance in front of hundreds before, and demand stage presence, so standing in front of a more senior researcher or classroom of 25 peers is nothing.”

So it’s with dancers such as Virrueta and so many others in mind that Huberty and her team prepare for this spring’s ballet, “Firebird.” The two spring performances typically draw about 1,300 ticket-holders to the Elkhorn Area High School auditorium.

And beyond the next big production, the future holds more dancing for Huberty, who doesn’t set limits for her children, dancers or herself.

Of course, wearing as many hats as she does — mentor, psychologist, stage manager and office manager — can get tiring. Then she remembers why she started in the first place — the children.

“Every year I get at least one thank-you letter,” she said. “This year was from a 6-year-old who said, ‘Dear Miss Colleen, I heart, heart, heart dance. This is the best time of my life,’ and I thought, ‘That’s why I do this.’”

People in this conversation

  • Guest - Kelly Popp

    My sister had always had a love of ballet/dance. And she loves her dame students. I am, of course, very proud of Miss Colleen. She is a very gifted, wonderful person. Some of us could only dream to be so talented.

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