From dancing for a professional basketball team to choreographing for our student shows, Lee-Ann Barber has always made plenty of room for dancing in her life. Outside of her full-time job as a project manager for the nonprofit American Association for Cancer Research, she teaches dance and yoga several times a week. Over her past 4 years at Philly Dance Fitness, the Drexel Hill resident has led tap, jazz, barre, Cardio Pop and even a few ballet classes. Read on to find out more about her and what she’s got in store for the upcoming “Take It Off Broadway” variety show!
Philly Dance Fitness: So how did you first get hooked on dancing?
Lee-Ann: I used to dance around the house when I was a little kid. My grandmother encouraged me because she used to dance professionally in New York City with a Greek tap dancing troupe. Nana was classically trained, musically inclined and loved the performing arts. She would take me to see ballet performances, especially The Nutcracker. In awe of her beautiful, kind aura and all the professional ballerinas I’d seen, I started taking classes at age five in Easton, PA. I then moved to a competitive studio in Southern Maryland. I remember my performance that year: red leotard and tutu and sparkly glitter! My parents would run me to dance class three nights a week and to competitions and shows on the weekends. I naturally moved into teaching dance when I got older, because I would stay after class to help with the younger children. My teacher saw how enthusiastic I was about demonstrating and asked me to start teaching!
You danced for the NBA’s Washington Wizards for three seasons. What was that like?
While at the University of Maryland, a friend of mine was on the Wizards Girls (now called the Wizards Dancers, a co-ed dance team), and encouraged me to try out my senior year of college. She helped me with my audition outfit the week before, and I showed up on audition day feeling so overwhelmed with 200+ girls trying out for just 20 spots. I was so surprised when I made it. What a rush it was to dance in front of nearly 15,000 fans in the big arena for every home game! We also did dance workshops, community service and charity events, which were all so rewarding. It made me into a more confident dancer. I am the biggest “cheerleader” for others dreaming to be on professional dance teams, and have helped coach many girls to prepare for auditions locally.
How has teaching dance impacted your life?
So much! It’s made me a better communicator, and not afraid to stand up in front of people or introduce myself to new people. It’s also helped me explain things more effectively to others, inside and outside of the teaching space. Teaching dance has made me who I am as a person!
What advice do you have for those considering a dance class for the first time?
Just do it and have fun! Philly Dance Fitness is a really amazing, positive place that’s all about having fun. There’s no pressure to be anything but who you are, which is what I love so much. It’s also a great way to express yourself and make new friends.
What’s it like working on the “Take It Off Broadway” show?
This is my favorite Philly Dance Fitness event because it’s an amazing opportunity for students to live out their dreams of performing on stage. I grew up performing at national dance competitions, dance festivals and local shows and fairs, so I love sharing that passion for performing with others. It’s so rewarding to see how much fun my students have, some of whom have never danced on stage before. I look forward to every rehearsal.
For this “TioB” show, I wanted to do something edgy and fun, yet relevant, so the audience could really connect. I picked “Stick it to the Man,” from School of Rock because it had a different, “rock star” feel to it and also brings attention to the need for the arts/music/dance to remain in school curriculum nationwide. The lyrics encourage everyone to stand up for themselves, speak out and do what’s right. And we’re once again featuring live vocals from fellow PDF instructor Michelle Krichilsky. I love being able to add that element of live music, especially with such a talented vocalist like Michelle, and it’s so fitting for this piece. I hope the audience will chant along. I can’t wait for the show!
Clearly you spend a ton of time teaching, what are some of your other hobbies?
Taking dance classes! It’s a totally different mindset, allowing me to turn my brain off. I also love to visit the beach in the summer with family in Maryland. It’s a nice escape to read by the water with a scenic view. Mostly, I enjoy spending time with my husband and our two new kittens, Rue & Luna.
Tell us something people may not know about you.
I played the alto saxophone from third grade through college. I was in a jazz band, and loved playing show tunes and Disney songs the most. I like to think it’s influenced my musicality overall and my love for jazz dance!
Come cheer on Lee-Ann’s performers at the Take It Off Broadway show coming up Nov. 15 (get tickets here), or join her at a class! She currently teaches Tap Tonic on Thursdays in Midtown and will also resume her Jazz Fusion class right after the show.
Interview by Delaney Malloy, social media marketing intern, edited for brevity and clarity