PNB School students know Deborah Kenner for her active, playful ballet classes for all ages and fun Instagram videos. But did you know she is also a dancer and has even been an artistic director? Keep reading to learn more about Ms. Kenner’s background and a few of her favorite things in this Q&A!
You had a full career before coming to PNB School. Can you tell us a bit about your own ballet training and how it led to your career as a dancer and Artistic Director?
Deborah Kenner: I began my training at a small school in Tucson, AZ. After high school, I attended the University of Arizona on a full dance and academic scholarship, where I trained with Melissa Lowe and Jory Hancock. When I graduated with my BFA, I moved to Denver to dance with Colorado Ballet. While in Denver, I discovered a contemporary company that toured small rural towns to introduce dance to people that may not have the opportunity to see a performance. I spent many years with David Taylor Dance Theatre until I was ready to move back to Arizona. I was lucky to be offered the Artistic Director position of Tucson Regional Ballet and spent two years setting both classical and contemporary ballets. It was an excellent experience teaching at the place where I was a student so many years prior.
During my time in Arizona teaching, I was still able to perform, but unfortunately, I slipped, landing a jump, and tore my ACL. It was during rehab that I fell in love with Pilates.
What levels and classes do you teach at PNB School?
DK: At PNB, I focus on the younger levels, everything up to level 2. I also have the opportunity to teach the Adult Open Classes and conditioning classes.
You are also on the PNBConditioning staff. How does the conditioning work influence your teaching or vice versa?
DK: Pilates training and anatomy have opened my eyes to the importance of building a strong foundation in both disciplines-ballet and Pilates. I like to include a little anatomy education during my classes. I found that using anatomy during class establishes a better understanding of posture and movement. Learning how the body moves establishes a reason behind the need for proper placement. Rather than something Ms. Kenner told us to do.
Putting movement together that flows is essential for a Pilates Mat class. Years of learning choreography and creating choreography have helped me combine Pilates exercises that create interesting transitions to challenge functional movement patterns.
How has it been teaching in a digital classroom this school year?
DK: The digital classroom requires a new set of skills as a teacher. The use of props such as my favorite bear, Penny, has been a lifesaver. It is challenging for young students to focus while in the studio and even more difficult at home. Finding ways to play games while learning and get each individual involved has become my focus. Hands-on corrections to help the student with positions have been replaced with words and images.
I also feel that allowing each student time to express their feelings when we are having a hard time is essential. I know how difficult it has been for me, and I cannot begin to imagine how uncomfortable these young dancers are feeling. However, the students have risen to this new learning style, and most days I am impressed with their resilience. It makes my heart happy when we can still share a good laugh, although we are not in the same studio.
We’ve noticed that your Instagram account has some really fun, short Pilates videos that give a look at what your class is like – we’re fans! What inspired you to start creating these?
DK: The inspiration for my Instagram page began during a Pilates social media event called March MATness. Each day of March, Pilates instructors all over the world post the same exercise. I wanted a creative way to present the exercise, and I thought adding improv from one of the accompanists was perfect. It just built from there and now being creative with zoom is my current project.
What advice do you give to your dance students during audition season?
DK: The best advice I give to students is to show up and have fun. We talk a lot about confidence in class and being prepared. Auditioning is a process and a skill that needs to be practiced. So I recommend going to as many auditions as they can.
Do you have any favorite pandemic-friendly (i.e. outdoor or virtual) Seattle spots?
DK: I don’t have a favorite pandemic-friendly spot, but I do have an activity. My almost 14-year-old dog and I have managed to walk every day since the beginning of the pandemic. Our walks have taken us all over our neighborhood. Exploring my surroundings was not something I had time for before the pandemic.
What are you currently listening to, reading and/or watching?
DK: Currently, I am listening to Brené Brown’s podcast called Unlocking Us.
The only things I have been reading recently are movement studies for school. I am not a big tv watcher, but I realize that I have watched more news recently than I have in my entire life.
Anything else we should know?
DK: I am currently working towards my PhD in Human Movement and Performance. After completing my program, I want to research the most influential movement interventions and programs for people living with Neurological Conditions. Similar to the Dance for Parkinson’s program that I love teaching!
Photos (from top to bottom): Deborah Kenner teaching at the Francia Russell Center; Ms. Kenner as Clara in David Taylor Dance Theatre’s The Nutcracker; Ms. Kenner during her Master Instructor training at Balanced Body headquarters in Sacramento, CA. Photos courtesy of Deborah Kenner.