Anyone who is around Jennifer Watkins will often hear her say, “I love my job!”
Since age 13, Watkins has managed daily pain. But that hasn’t stopped her from dancing and teaching at Ark City Dance, 215 N. Summit St., in Arkansas City.
Watkins, who also is director and owner of Ark City Dance, has scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, and has had a Harrington rod implanted there. She developed scoliosis when in the fourth grade. Today she aims to live with a positive frame of mind. She is determined not to let her condition spoil her love of dance and working with many students.
“My condition isn’t life-threatening, but maybe hindering at times,” she said. “I just feel like even though I may be in pain, I’m thankful I am still able to teach dance and do what I love. There are so many people that have something way worse than I do. I will never use my scoliosis as an excuse for something. I consider myself a lucky lady that is married to an amazingly supportive man and has a wonderful family, all of which I am extremely proud of.”
Watkins announced that auditions for a new company are tentatively set for July 23 and 24. She still needs to verify times with those involved while keeping track of data, focusing on some extra details that will be released at a later date.
Ark City Dance students already succeeded in having presented their spring recital in May, and plan to continue rehearsing for future performances and competitions. Watkins and many additional dance instructors offer recreational classes through the regular school year and also during summer months. These classes include tap, jazz, ballet, lyrical and hip-hop.
A surprise is in store for students as a new class will be added if all goes as planned. Watkins is also hopeful in that a tumbling program might be brought back this year.
“We compete February through May, and try to keep our travels fairly close,” Watkins said. “We travel to the Wichita, Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Dallas areas mostly. It is a big time with financial commitment. There’s so much to be gained from valuable feedback from the professional judges and performing on stage. For some kids, performing on stage is a lifelong goal. For the majority, it is just something they love. They find great joy in dancing and performing.”
Dancers and teachers with Ark City Dance are eagerly anticipating being a part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2020. Dancers have attended previous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parades every two to three years and they are getting a chance to perform again.
“It is an experience of a lifetime,” Watkins said. “It is a week full of fun-filled sight-seeing, along with many hours of rehearsals.”
The best thing about the art of dancing is that there aren’t any age restrictions. Individuals can begin lessons early. Teens and young adults can dance as a means of expressing themselves. And picking up dance at an older age can lead to a healthier and happier life.
“You can still be dancing in your 70s, or even later, of course,” Watkins said. “There are Broadway performers who sing and dance way past what is viewed as ‘normal’ performance ages. Heck, some are still teaching or even going to classes. I received a text from someone who has been out of high school for several years saying, ‘I miss you guys. I need dance in my life.’ How can that not keep you going and energized?”
Watkins likes the idea that students have the option to take multiple classes from many teachers. The others who teach at Ark City Dance are Morgan Musson, Donnette Rothweiler, Haley Fahnestock, Brittany Anguiano, Hannah Smith and Brynlea Watkins.
Tremendously influenced and inspired by her mother, Terri Schroeder, who also suffers from scoliosis, Watkins spent a lot of time as a child in her mother’s studio. Schroeder currently holds the position of adviser to the director at Ark City Dance.
Schroeder had been a competitive twirler. This was her life for a long time until she became tired of the grind and competition. She wanted a change. So, she began teaching dance in 1974 and has kept teaching since.
“It (her teaching) started at Weston School of Dance,” Watkins said. “She then merged with Susan Speer at Entertainers Dance Academy, which is still here in Ark City, then transitioned to her own studio, creating Ark City Dance. I grew up in the studio doing minimal travel, but attended conventions with professional dance teachers each summer. Those are some of the fondest memories I have at the studio. Great friendships that have continued to this day were made with dancing.”
Tap is Watkins’ favorite style of dance. Though new instructors have taken a load off of Watkins by teaching some tap lessons, she still devotes time to it.
“I can’t stay away from tapping,” she said.
It is the creativity involved in dance that Watkins finds fascinating.
“I love to create, and there are absolutely no limits with what can be created. Dance is an art and every piece is unique in some way,” she said.
It is Watkins’ belief that there isn’t anything wrong with a child wanting to be a “star.” However, she tries to coach them on how necessary it is for them to work hard and not expect instant gratification.
“What is not usually conveyed to young students is the amount of work and discipline involved to make success happen,” she said. “But I don’t want any kid to feel like they don’t matter or they have failed. That is heartbreaking to me. On the other hand, why are we continuing to make kids think that it’s not OK to fail? Embrace it. Use it to make you successful.”
Those wanting to learn more about Watkins, Ark City Dance and classes offered can contact her at (620) 442-5355, or send emails to email@example.com.