Zionsville Woman With Illustrious Past Teaches New Generation of Dancers Writer / Rebecca Wood Photographer / JJ Kaplan Kirsten Ferger believes she has a calling, a duty of sorts. She feels a deep responsibility to pass along the art form that has played a dominant role in her life. Ferger is a former professional dancer with a distinguished resume that includes performing with prestigious ballet companies and the “who’s who” of the dance world. Today, at age 54, Ferger is pouring that experience into teaching the next generation of dancers at the Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre in Carmel. Dancing has always been a part of Ferger’s life. At the age of 4, Ferger’s mother introduced her to dance. Her mother was taking adult dance classes at Butler University. But it was tiny Ferger, swirling around in the background, who caught the dance instructor’s eye. “The teacher said, ‘You must have danced in a former life,’” chuckles Ferger. For the next several years, Ferger attended dance classes. At age 13, dance took hold of Ferger, and she passionately sought out performance experiences and opportunities. Ferger says she was “laser-focused” at the time on progressing as a dancer. Instructors appreciated her physicality, flexibility and “dancer brain” (the ability to take corrections and made the appropriate changes). At age 16, Ferger graduated from Zionsville High School and enrolled in the American Ballet Theatre School in New York City. In the spring of 1980, Mikhail Baryshnikov was holding open auditions for the American Ballet Theatre Company. Over 800 dancers showed up for the 10 open positions. Baryshnikov invited Ferger to audition. Ferger recalls Baryshnikov as kind and open, but she admits the audition process was nerve-racking. When Ferger landed a spot in the troupe, she was overjoyed and grateful for all her hard work. Denise Salamie, a board member for Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre, explains the significance of Ferger’s position with the American Ballet Theatre Company. “Kirsten was hand-picked for the American Ballet Theatre by Mikhail Baryshnikov, the greatest male dancer in the history of American ballet,” says Salamie. “It is considered the pinnacle of success for a ballet dancer to be chosen to dance with this prestigious company.” For the next year, Ferger traveled with the American Ballet Theatre Company to major U.S. cities. Typically, the group performed nine times a week. Ferger’s best memories of those performing days include dancing with live music and standing in the wings backstage, watching other dancers and enjoying the art form. From the American Ballet Theatre, Ferger landed at the American Festival Ballet based in Idaho. The company performed and toured around the western United States. Ferger eventually returned to her Zionsville roots. She raised two children in Zionsville. Her daughter Zoe is currently studying dance at the University of Iowa. Since 2005, Ferger has served as the ballet instructor on faculty at The Academy of Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre. She also serves as a company teacher for the Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre. Ferger says she understands that with her experience comes a duty to continue to teach the next generation of dancers. “Not passing dance on to the next generation is a little selfish,” Ferger asserts. “I understand that with my experience comes a duty to teach.” Salamie, whose daughters train at the Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre, says that Ferger passes along more than just dance instructions; she also gives life lessons. “She also nurtures qualities that will help them excel in all aspects of life, such as discipline, teamwork and time management,” declares Salamie. Hannah Johnson, a 17-year-old dancer at the Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre, says that Ferger’s prior dance experience adds to her teaching. “Kirsten knows what it takes to be a professional dancer, and she incorporates that into her teaching,” Johnson asserts. “Not only does she teach and push us to be amazing performers like herself, she also has wonderful stories to tell us about her performing career. She shows us what it takes to get to that level and how we can achieve it.” But Ferger says her ultimate goal for her students is that they become patrons of the art form of dance. “My hope is for them to keep the love to dance alive in their lives,” Ferger says.