Haylie Berning, Director of Dance at Bethel College Academy of Performing Arts (BCAPA), has long and strong roots in the local dance community. Always a lover of ballet, she became a fan of modern and contemporary during her years at Wichita State University where she majored in dance. Now, she also finds joy in choreographing performance pieces. With classes for all ages and abilities, BCAPA’s dance department focuses on performance rather than competition.
Tell me a little bit of your history, where you’re from, and how you started dancing?
I’m from Rose Hill, [that] is where I grew up most of my school years. I started dancing when I was four. My mom had a home office business. She sponsored a T-ball team that I was on and I hated it, so I would be out spinning around in the outfield, and I was supposed to be up to bat. So she said, “ok, well, let’s try ballet instead.”
So did she enroll you somewhere in town?
Yes, so I enrolled at Wichita School of Performing Arts and I danced there for five years, and then I danced kind of all over the place. After that, I actually went to Movement Authority and competed for a few years, and I also was taking ballet at Nancy Hervey school. So I did those at the same time, and then we decided to move away from competitions so I did ballet with Jill [Landrith] at Nancy Hervey. I did jazz and tap at Wichita Children’s Theater and then… I was a little bit everywhere. That was through elementary school and middle school, and then high school I only did ballet, so I just danced with Jill through high school.
Was that [ballet] your love then, you could tell?
Yeah, I was definitely a ballerina, and then, I never actually did modern. Through all of those changes I had never done modern or contemporary until college. So now, I mean, I think if I had done modern I would have really liked that, too. When I choreograph I do a lot more modern or lyrical, contemporary type of styles.
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always had dance, I always knew I wanted to do something with dance, but then at one point, I wanted to be a meteorologist; I also wanted to be a fashion merchandiser. I, then actually, double majored in college. I got my dance degree, and I have a psychology degree also, so I worked at Comcare of Sedgwick County for a year and was a children’s case manager. When I found out that Danika was going to be resigning here, and I was applying for this job, then I let go of the other ones because I was working full time and teaching here four days a week and it was crazy.
Yeah, that’s a bit much. Did you want dance to be a career for you?
Yeah, and through college I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to do, but then as I got further into it, I realized I didn’t want to move away and spend my days auditioning. I’ve taught since I was 14 at the Rose Hill rec center and then started really teaching for Jill, I think, my junior year of high school. She had an ankle surgery and she needed a demonstrator for her little baby classes. So I started as a demonstrator and then my senior year I taught two classes a week for her. Then I taught for Wichita Children’s Theater, and I taught for Set Free in Mulvane.
So you said you started teaching at the age of 14, and you’ve been teaching ever since. What is your favorite genre to teach?
Definitely ballet, but I also enjoy choreographing so we have rehearsals with our company, and so both. If I had to pick a style its definitely ballet, but I also like choreographing more modern and contemporary.
What about age range. What age do you like to work with?
Umm, middle school or late elementary school — at the point where their parents aren’t forcing them to come anymore and they really want to be there. Where its like “oh yeah I want to do this and I want to try and improve.” They’re not just there, they don’t just show up, they actually want to work on their technique and have that self motivation.
So you took over BCAPA a year ago?
Yes, last August.
And you have made some changes here? What would you say is the primary focus?
So I guess [in] the dance program — the biggest message is that there’s something for everyone, because we have a lot of different parts. We have our young child classes and we have a lot of recreational students, but then we also have adult classes which not a ton of studios have. So we have adult and fitness classes. We have adult ballet, modern and conditioning. Then, we have our three companies who perform. We have three levels basically, and so they get 10-15 performance opportunities throughout the year. They perform at fall festivals, all sorts of different festivals, the children’s festival. They get more featured in the spring concert and then we also perform a lot at senior centers and retirement homes, so that’s always nice.
Then we have a student choreography concert, which is cool, too. The kids in the companies, we tell them a couple months in advance, and so they start choreographing with their friends, or they can do a solo or group, however they want to do it, and then they audition. We have the teachers audition them and take notes and give feedback.
Then, I guess, the last part of the dance program is we have therapeutic classes. Danika started this years ago — dance for people with Parkinson’s Disease. So I went to New York two years ago and took the training at Mark Morris, and then we just got a grant for me to take the next level of training, and then one of our other teachers just took the beginning one. So we have classes at Schowalter Villa, a retirement community in Hesston, and then Kidron Bethel is the one here. We have classes at both, and those are really some of my favorite classes. So we have a lot. There really is something for everyone.
What’s your favorite part of class?
I tend to do really long barres. I could do an hour long barre and a 15-minute center.
Why do you prefer the barre?
I don’t know. I feel like there’s so much foundational stuff to teach at the barre, I guess, and so I try to fit so much in, and I talk a lot and so that’s probably just why it ends up being so long. If I also had the time I’d probably do a long center because I just explain things pretty well.
Who was someone who you looked up to as a dancer and who you tried to emulate in your teaching?
Um, well, Jill is who I’ve gotten most of my inspiration from as a teacher and a dancer. She’s taught me so much. She wasn’t my first ballet teacher, but the first one who really made an impact on me, and then she was also my first boss basically as a teacher, so she’s kind of mentored me on both sides.
What do you feel is the most important quality to have as a dancer?
Dedication, I guess, because you can have a kid that comes in who has a great natural ability, but if they don’t have a passion for it, or if they don’t want to try, then it’s not going to matter. And another kid with the same age, with zero natural talent, could by far surpass them — so passion and dedication.
Bethel College Academy of Performing Arts
300 East 27th Street
North Newton, KS 67117
Located in the basement of Mem Hall!