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Great Falls Dancer Passes on Tradition

From student dancer to teacher and performer Kris Beery carries on tradition

After receiving a pair of tap shoes purchased by her mother at a yard sale, the 9-year-old quickly scratched all the wax off the kitchen floor.

Kris Beery's mother was furious but got the message, and with the agreement of her husband, she enrolled her daughter in lessons.

For two years Beery danced in a Sterling studio close to home, but when she switched schools for junior high, her mother suggested they try a change in dance as well.

This decision led Beery and her mother to Theresa D'Alessandro's more demanding School of Theatrical Dance atop the Old Brogue in Great Falls.

Initially the rigorous instruction overwhelmed Beery, and she came home in tears.

But this angst quickly faded when D'Alessandro told Beery's mother that her daughter Kris had the ability to perform at the higher level if she would just believe in herself.

With all the rooms carpeted except for the kitchen — where Beery had already performed for the first and last time — her mother bought a 5-foot-square sheet of plywood, so her daughter could practice.

With the board and intense focus, Beery gained self-confidence and has been dancing at the studio ever since.

The mother and daughter were attracted to The School of Theatrical Dance after hearing about its recent college graduate owner/instructor.

"Most of our experience with dance instructors was that they were kind of worldly or used to old ways, and Theresa was young and beautiful and bright and had a lot to offer," Beery said. "We saw the excitement, and that channeled back into my dancing."

Beery now displays the qualities that drew her to D'Alessandro over 20 years ago, as the assistant director of her childhood mentor, teaching in front of the same floor-to-ceiling mirrors where she watched herself grow up.

"Who thinks they can get their knees to their ears?" Beery asked her Primary 1 students last Tuesday.

The kindergartners' hands shot up, and they proceeded to demonstrate their "kitty-cat jumps," eager for Beery's animated approval and praise.

After the practice jumping, the class formed a line and Beery pressed "play."

"Paws up," she said over the music, and the first student began to move across the room.

BEERY CONTINUED TO DANCE under D'Alessandro's instruction through high school, arriving at the studio after school and helping as a teaching assistant in addition to taking tap and ballet lessons.

"[Dancing] was my passion," Beery said. "I enjoyed it. I loved it. It was my release from schoolwork and everyday life as a teenager."

Beery enrolled at Virginia Tech as a prospective business major, planning to follow the path of her three older sisters, who took jobs as office assistants.

"Every summer when I would come home ... I would always come back and take class," Beery said. "That was still something that was an underlying theme in my life."

Beery decided to audition for Shenandoah University and was accepted as a dance major.

The dance department focused on ballet and modern dance, a style D'Alessandro had just introduced to Beery during a summer class.

"While I was in college, I really decided I loved the Graham technique of modern [dance]," Beery said.

Her newly discovered love of modern, specifically the Graham technique based on the contraction and release of the body, led her to Kathy Harty Gray.

At Mary Washington College, D'Alessandro was a student of Gray, who had studied under Martha Graham at Juilliard.

Therefore Beery had heard of Gray while in college and at D'Alessandro's studio. However, it wasn't until after she graduated that Beery learned Gray taught a course at Northern Virginia Community College's (NOVA) Alexandria campus.

At this time Beery had been teaching, as well as helping with the business side of her old studio, while D'Alessandro was living overseas.

"When I got out of college and into teaching, although it was fulfilling, it wasn't giving me the technique that I needed to further myself as a dancer."

Therefore, on the advice of a member of Gray's dance theater, Beery took the NOVA class.

"I loved it," Beery said. "It was full of technique. She really pushes you. She gets to know your limits and tries to take you beyond that."

After the class, Gray asked Beery to stay for the theater's rehearsal.

Beery has been dancing with Gray for the past nine years and is currently preparing her Irish solo for the theater's spring performance next Friday and Saturday.

Gray choreographed the piece for Beery last fall when the head of Shenandoah's dance department invited her to perform for an alumni concert.

"[Being invited to perform] made me feel like I had achieved something," Beery said. "I was honored they recognized me as a performer."

AS ASSISTANT DIRECTOR for The School of Theatrical Dance, Beery currently teaches ballet, modern, tap and jazz to 12 classes ranging from preschoolers to adult.

This year marks her 10th as an instructor.

Until her husband's job with the State Department moves them overseas, she plans to continue teaching in the studio, which has been a part of her life for over 20 years, and performing with the company that has developed her dancing for almost 10.

Before members of last Tuesday's Primary 1 class could practice their kitty-cat jumps, they had to take off their ballet slippers and lace up their tap shoes.

"I need help tying," one student told Beery.

After Beery's assistance, students twisted their ankles in the air, writing the alphabet in imaginary letters.

And when the 5-year-old girls rose, the grins began to spread as they shifted their weight from heel to toe.

"Those shoes make so much noise," Beery said. "Just slapping them all over the floor sounds great. When the little ones put them on, they start running and jumping ... which is probably exactly what I did."