With fiery red hair styled neatly in a bun and a “uniform” of leotard, matching tights and legwarmers, ballet director Beverly Holskin is hard to miss. In addition to being one of the first instructors on the Philly Dance Fitness team, Beverly is regarded for her passion for teaching, unexpectedly witty demeanor and unrelenting dedication to her students. Over the past six years, she’s developed our ballet offerings into a multi-faceted program complete with small group pointe classes. And over the past few summers, she’s devoted extra time outside of class to work with students who wanted to perform at the annual Philadelphia Dance Day evening showcase. With just a few weeks remaining before that event, we sat down with Beverly to find out why she loves being a “ballet mistress” and what advice she has for new dancers who’ve been thinking about strapping on a pair of slippers.
Philly Dance Fitness: Tell us about your background in dance.
Beverly Holskin: I started dancing when I was 3 at a ballet studio in Scranton, my hometown. As I progressed, I began training at the Ballet Theater of Scranton in RAD (Royal Academy of Dance) and I got a tap scholarship before focusing on ballet. I continued dancing ballet and jazz while studying molecular genetics at Temple University. After graduating, I was accepted into the Corps de Ballet at Philadelphia Civic Ballet Company. By day, I worked as a research scientist. At night and on weekends, I rehearsed and continued studying dance at the University of the Arts and Koresh as well as with various ballet instructors in Philadelphia. I was also the choreographer and lead model for the biggest modeling production company in the tri-state area – I did hundreds of fashion shows over a 20 year period.
What is your very first memory of dancing?
I remember when I was 3 at the first dance studio I ever attended – there must have been a hundred students in this huge studio. They lined everyone up by height and I was the tiniest, very last person. I remember hysterically crying! I also recall being on stage at that age — we were all in bunny costumes. While everyone else was dancing, I put my backside to the audience and wiggled my tail. I stole the show!
What prompted you to leave the science industry and start teaching dance full-time?
I spent about two decades conducting research for some of the major biopharmaceutical companies in the area. A couple of years ago, the company I had been with the longest was purchased, and I had the opportunity to leave and focus on running Major Moment Studio (Philly Dance Fitness’ Rittenhouse location). It was not too much of a transition because I had attended class daily after work. At this point, I’d already been managing the studio for a couple of years and starting to build the ballet program at Philly Dance Fitness. Dance was always a part of my life. I also now serve as the part-time studio manager for PDF, handling everything from private event bookings to membership questions.
How has teaching dance impacted your life?
It has been one of the most fulfilling experiences in my life. Being a scientist is a different type of atmosphere: You’re in a laboratory, you don’t have a lot of interaction with people, and when you do, it’s not the kind of public interaction I have now with students. I have made some wonderful relationships and friends. It’s the reason that I wake up every morning!
How did you go about creating the ballet program here?
I have always taught beginner adults. Even when I was in the ballet company, I would sub or run my own class. When Deb, the president of Philly Dance Fitness, first came to the studio we began a relationship, and in 2011 she asked if I wanted to teach a ballet class. Our first weekly ballet class came to fruition that fall with only five students. As time went by, the class became more popular and attracted dancers of various skill levels. This led us to develop additional classes for adults who had taken ballet previously. We keep developing programs. Most recently, we started a beginner pointe intensive. I was so amazed and proud to help eight dancers get up on pointe for the very first time.
What do you enjoy most about teaching ballet?
Watching the students’ growth and how they feel at the end of class; their sense of being accomplished and doing something they never thought they would do again, especially for those dancers who always had doing pointe work on their bucket list. It’s also great watching such a vast age range — my students range from 20 to 75! All the dancers are very supportive of each other here. We have established a pretty strong ballet community within PDF. People have made very close friends. We have many outside events including a yearly holiday party. We even had a baby shower for one of our students and a going away party for another.
What advice do you have for adults considering a ballet class for the first time?
Point your toe into the deep end of the pool and jump in! We offer a nurturing, non-judgmental environment where you are given corrections in a positive and constructive way. Workout culture has changed because people are so much more into fitness now but not everyone wants to be a “cardio junkie.” Sometimes you don’t walk out of a ballet class feeling that you’ve done an intense workout, but it’s designed to make you long and lean. That’s how PDF has made a ballet niche for itself.
Tell us more about your students who will be performing at the upcoming Philadelphia Dance Day showcase on July 29.
This year, we have nine advanced ballet dancers and 11 beginner/intermediate ballet dancers performing, plus 14 from my Jazz Tech class. I try my best to accommodate the skill and confidence level of each dancer so that everyone looks their best. We focus on contemporary song choices to engage the audience. Our year-round classes have always been geared toward adults who just want to learn and have fun, so for that reason we don’t have formal recitals. But Dance Day is the one time of the year when students who want to can show off what they’ve been learning. It’s a wonderful experience for them and I encourage everyone to come out to support our dancers.
– Interview by Jen Schumann, marketing and operations assistant
Find Beverly teaching ballet, pointe and jazz almost every day of the week. Sign up to dance with her on our schedule page. We also invite you to cheer on our student performers at the upcoming Philadelphia Dance Day. In addition to Beverly’s crew, students from our Hip-Hop, Jazz Cardio Fusion, Tap, Contemporary and Bollywood Tech classes will be gracing the stage on July 29. Tickets for the show are only $5 and all proceeds go directly toward the nonprofit community festival.