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Island resident brings ballet to Sanibel

By Staff | Jan 6, 2011

Island resident and former professional ballerina Karen Whitaker will be teaching ballet classes and conducting individual training sessions at the Sanibel Health Club.

Sanibel resident Karen Whitaker knows a thing or two about ballet.

Dancing since the age of four, Whitaker entered the Tampa Ballet as an apprentice when she 12 and, after being scouted, joined the Dallas Ballet.

After a knee injury forced her to undergo arthroscopic surgery, Whitaker continued trying to dance — again with the Tampa Ballet and then with the Los Angeles Ballet — but her injury forced her to retire from professional dance and begin teaching, and rehabilitating, back home in Florida.

When she moved to Fort Myers in 1987, Whitaker became the Ballet Mistress at The Robin Dawn Academy of Performing Arts in Cape Coral, and she said many of her former students are now working on Broadway and with professional companies.

“I eventually stepped away from teaching, went to college and raised my son, but now that he is off to college, I’m returning to my first love — ballet,” Whitaker said.

After noticing the flooring, mirrored walls and ballet barres in the Sanibel Health Club’s aerobics studio, Whitaker approached the owners, Jenna Hoyt and Tim Shevlin, which an idea — to conduct private ballet instruction in the perfectly-appointed dance/aerobics studio, with the hope of eventually starting classes for serious students.

Hoyt and Shevlin were delighted.

“She’s great at what she does and she is so passionate about it. We’re excited to have her at the Sanibel Health Club,” Hoyt said. “We want to be different and provide different options — whether you’re doing it for the dance experience or the toning and shaping. There are multiple benefits for your goal through ballet. I think it’ll be great — I’m starting to learn a bit of ballet myself!”

Whitaker’s lessons and classes focus on classical ballet for serious ballet students — with at least three years of experience in classical ballet and good knowledge of placement, movements and terms.

“This is pure, classroom training, focused on improvement. We will have intermediate through advanced classes beginning in February on Mondays and Wednesday evenings,” Whitaker said, noting that if the classes generate a lot of interest, she will look into adding more.

“The only real ballet school in town is the Gulf Shore Ballet, but that’s way on the other side of town. If I find enough promising students, I’d love to start my own ballet company — but that’s for the future,” Whitaker said. “I’m excited about all of it.”

Whitaker will be conducting a free ballet placement class on Saturday, Feb. 5, at 1 p.m. at the Sanibel Health Club.

For more information about private instruction or the February ballet classes, call Karen Whitaker, 472-0867

For more information about the Sanibel Health Club, call 395-2639