Student Spotlight: A ‘Last’ing Love for Dance

Michelle (far left) with fellow students after a Philly Dance Fitness pointe class.

Michelle Last, 41, never expected to take up ballet as an adult. But she got hooked after her first class and now shows off her newfound skills at the annual Philadelphia Dance Day performance showcase. 

This will be Michelle’s third year performing at Dance Day, a nonprofit community festival that Philly Dance Fitness organizes every summer. Each year, she’s added another performance piece — which means she’s appearing in three routines at the showcase this July 28! 

Read on to learn more about how this South Philly resident rediscovered her passion for dance here at Philly Dance Fitness.

Philly Dance Fitness: When did you start dancing?  

Michelle Last: I grew up dancing, and did jazz and tap for over 13 years. I attended the University of the Arts for painting, but most of the electives I chose were dance classes. After college, I took a long break from dancing from my early 20s until late my 30s. I decided I wanted to start dancing again because I loved it. I started looking up classes online, saw Philly Dance Fitness and thought I would give it a try.

I was a little intimidated, so I started with Zumba. I was an older student with not the typical dancer body. After the Zumba class, I felt comfortable enough to try Jazz class and then … I met Beverly.

I just fell in love. I love her and her style of teaching. Because of that, I was willing to try any class she taught, like ballet. I had never done ballet before, not even as a kid. After my first ballet class with Beverly, I emailed Philly Dance Fitness and said, “Change my membership to ballet!” Now, I am taking pointe. I never thought that was going to happen, but it’s very exciting.

Tell us about the routines you’re working on for Philadelphia Dance Day. 

Michelle performing a jazz routine at Philadelphia Dance Day 2017.

I’m doing jazz, ballet and pointe. I never thought I’d be doing this again, performing in front of people, and it’s fun to show off something I spend a lot of time doing. My husband, mother and sister all come. This year since the show is in a bigger venue I’m also inviting my mother-in-law and a bunch of friends.

It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun to learn each piece. We’re all a team, and that’s one of the things I really like about Philly Dance Fitness. I’ve made so many new friends, and we have our little gang. Since a lot of us are in the same classes, I see these people two or three times a week. They see me at my worst, they see me at my best. We’re cheering for each other when we’ve gotten a step or figured out that combo, and it’s really cool.

Why is dancing so important to you? 

I started going to Philly Dance Fitness because I thought, “I hate the gym, let me dance!” It’s become so much more. It’s a commitment, it’s me pushing myself. And, my self-esteem has gone up so much from dancing.

Michelle (center) during a Pointe class.

I feel so good about myself from doing this. I feel even better when I get on stage and I can say, “Look what I did!” That’s exciting and important for people to have that kind of thing. I love so many aspects of my life, but I can’t picture myself not dancing now.

I could just go to dance classes, which is fine, but with Philadelphia Dance Day, I have something to show for it. Just getting older, women especially sometimes lose the things that they did growing up. Maybe you played soccer or danced and then stopped for some reason. But we shouldn’t! We should keep doing whatever makes us happy. And you know you can’t think about stress and cleaning the kitchen when you’re doing pas de bourree turns!

What keeps you busy when you’re not dancing?

During the week, I work at the University of Pennsylvania as an assistant to the chair of the Physics and Astronomy department. I also love just hanging out with friends in South Philly, walking around the city, gardening and biking. I live on a great block. I also go to FDR Park where my husband can skateboard while I make a few loops around on my bike. 

Any advice for would-be dancers? 

Just try. I never thought I’d be a ballet dancer because I had never done it before and I just had this preconceived notion that I wouldn’t be able to do it. But just try it, because it can be entirely different from what you thought it was going to be.

Cheer on Michelle and her fellow students at the Philadelphia Dance Day showcase coming up on July 28! After a day filled with more than two dozen FREE workshops, head to the Gershman Y on Broad Street for the $10 evening event, which includes more instructional sessions, social dancing and a capstone performance showcase. Also check out these two FREE preview events before the big day.

– Interview by marketing intern Alexa Stutman, edited for brevity and clarity

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