The trill of a piano fills the air and the soft swish of ballet-slippered feet joins the gentle creak of floorboards. Lights hum from the high ceiling above in harmony with the heavy breaths of the dancers below. The air circulating the room is cool, but a light sheen of sweat glistens across the ballerinas’ skin nonetheless. As the corner speaker vibrates with the song’s final chords, Kate Kastelnik paces lithely between the rows of dancers and ballet barres, hands clasped, a knowing smile on her face.
The eight students turn their heads to look at Ms. Kastelnik, awaiting her instruction and critique.
Music in her veins
Kastelnik is an adjunct professor of dance who first began teaching in the fall of 2010. She started ballet at the age of five and from there went on to pursue a career as a professional dancer.
“[At] my first ballet recital we did the chicken dance in little yellow tutus,” said Kastelnik with a smile. “I was hooked ever since.”
The ballet instructor comes from a musically inclined family: both of her parents are professional musicians, and her youngest brother is involved in a band. Kastelnik considers herself lucky to have a family that supported and encouraged her pursuit of an artistic career.
“For me, coming from a family musicians, that has always been the thing I felt most connected to, the music,” said Kastelnik. “I feel that this is my way of being a musician, and I am just connected to the music so deeply through movement.”
She says she first “became serious” about the art form that is ballet at the age of ten when she joined a regional pre-professional company in Pennsylvania called The Ballet Guild of Lehigh Valley (now the Pennsylvania Youth Ballet). She was enrolled with the company from sixth grade through high school where she was afforded extensive instruction and chances to perform.
“We had a lot of dancing opportunities,” said Kastelnik. “I took [dance] classes mostly everyday, and we did a lot of rehearsing. It was pretty intensive.”
By the time Kastelnik graduated high school, she was in full pursuit of a professional dance career.
The Fight for the Ideal Ballet Body
When most individuals think of ballet they envision women in leotards or tutus with long, willowy figures, perfect posture and delicate frames. Alongside that imagery are thoughts of the harsh demand for the “ideal” slender physique, a requirement often resulting in malnutrition and eating disorders.
For Kastelnik, this “ideal” image was encouraged during her teenage years, creating a personal battle between her body and her passion.
“In high school I was a person who, like a normal teenage girl, I had curves,” said Kastelnik, recalling her personal struggles. “At that time some of my teachers were quite a bit older and were from a generation where you just needed to be skinny and I was told I needed to lose weight for most of my teenage years, until I went to college where it didn’t really matter any more.”
Kastelnik notes that the new trend appears to be geared towards strength and athleticism, a focus which is more apt to encompass a greater range of body types and encourage overall healthier lifestyles.
“I was never sure that I would be a professional dancer, I just knew I wanted to and I loved it so much and I figured when I hit a wall I would stop and start heading in a different direction,” said Kastelnik. “But I never really hit that wall, there was always a place for me. I think it’s because I loved it so much, [it was] my passion combined with the talent I did and do posses, even though I may not have had the ‘perfect’ ballet body type or physique, that didn’t stop me.”
Making the Move
In 1999, Kastelnik made the decision to pack up and move to Nashville, Tennessee, where she hoped to become employed by the Nashville Ballet.
“I did a lot of auditions and I ended up having a gut feeling about Nashville just as a place I wanted to be,” Kastelnik explained. “The company particularly felt so warm and welcoming and their style of movement felt so comfortable to me.”
For her first two years with the company, Kastelnik worked as a trainee. This particular job can be troubling as there is no guarantee that a trainee will secure a full-time paid position. But she stuck it out and ended up dancing with the company for over a decade, growing as a ballerina and as a person.
“[Dance] has made me notice the way people move. I may not know the color of someone’s eyes, but I know how they walk, and I can imitate that,” says Kastelnik. “I think that the way someone moves and the way that they carry themselves says so much about a person, you can’t really hide that. I think that [dance] makes you comfortable as a person, even though a lot of dancers are introverts because its not spoken, but at the same time it’s very naked, very exposed.”
Kastelnik says she’s always done her best to “stay in the moment,” utilizing her passion for ballet to push herself to her highest potential.
And for Kastelnik, there’s one element in particular that continues to connect her to dancing: music.
“I just feel that I’m so connected to the music when I’m dancing,” Kastelnik laughed. “That’s what always tied me to it and kept me coming back. It’s just the music.”
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