Shawnee Mission Faces: Maureen Hall, lifelong ballerina and guest instructor for Nigerian academy

For Maureen Hall, a lifelong ballerina who teaches at the Kansas City Ballet, the COVID-19 pandemic meant no more ballet classes for who knows how long.

A lifelong dancer since age 4, Hall grew up in Overland Park and trained at Somerset Ballet Center in Prairie Village where she later taught (Somerset is now the Johnson County campus of the Kansas City Ballet). 

After graduating with the SM North Class of 1990 and earning her dance degree from the University of Kansas, Hall danced a short period in Dallas, then enjoyed four years performing in the Radio City Christmas Show in Branson, Missouri, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. 

Hall is going on 20 years of teaching ballet. She is also now on faculty at the Crescendo Conservatory in Overland Park. She lives with her husband, Steve Hall (also an SM North 1990 grad), and their four children.

Being stuck at her home in Shawnee opened new virtual doors for Hall. A piano accompanist and friend of hers began accompanying her online teaching courses over the past few months, including one special class for students in Nigeria in mid-August.

When everything shut down, there were no ballet classes. At first, I was like I’m not gonna teach for I don’t know how long. It really made me upset because it’s something I’ve always done. Even when you stop doing something, you kind of lose your skill, and I really didn’t want to go without teaching at all.

So my friend, YeeSik Wong, who is an accompanist for my ballet classes at Kansas City Ballet, we were texting and she said, well if you want to start some classes over Zoom — ‘cause that’s kind of what different dancers have been using since this all happened — I’ll play for you and we can do some classes.

So, we just kind of came up with this plan and started doing classes. We did some through Kansas City Ballet too.

One day she just texted me sometime and was like hey would you like to do a class for this studio in Nigeria? And I was like sure. I didn’t really think that much about it when she texted me because there was so much at the time. All my kids were home, and there was so much going on.

She said you won’t get paid for it, is that OK? I was like sure, it sounds exciting, it sounds fun.

She saw their story on Instagram, they’re called the Leap of Dance Academy. It’s a great story just by itself: This man had seen a movie about ballet and he just fell in love with it when he was 18. There’s not a lot of ballet, if any, in Nigeria, and he taught himself from YouTube how to dance.

After that, he actually then found a couple teachers, I think he did some lessons, but he really developed this love of ballet, so he started his own school in his little apartment in Nigeria, and there’s about I think maybe 12 or 14 kids that come every day after school and take ballet from him.

So she contacted the school and said we would love to teach for you, they got back and said we’d love to have you but it might be a while.

We didn’t hear anything for a little bit, so we didn’t think much about it. In the meantime, a video of one of the boys who takes ballet, just out dancing in the rain in not a very nice part of town, it looks pretty bad… it went viral in the dance world.

He’s just so happy, he’s just dancing around doing ballet. It’s awesome. So this happened after we agreed to do the class, then it became this big deal. People were volunteering from pretty big places to teach for this school.

Funny thing is, I didn’t realize that until the morning of the class — that the boy on the viral video was one of the boys that would actually be in the class. I had seen it, but I didn’t make the connection. I was so engrossed in what was going on in my own life, but the morning of the class, I thought I should really get some more information before I teach this class, and then I read about all the things I just told you and I was like, wow.

So then that morning, we get on Zoom and I was like is this really going to work? Are we going to be able to have a class take place from Nigeria? Just the logistics of it. But at 8 in the morning, 2 in the afternoon there, they get on, and the teacher was so friendly. The kids all came up to the screen and were like hi!

He usually has class in his apartment, but something with the connection wasn’t right, so they were actually outside. There were chickens walking around, and roosters, and they would just cockle-doodle-doo during class and the kids just kept dancing (laughs). It was just really surreal in a way.

I know I had a smile on my face the whole time, because they were so energetic, and they were so appreciative of everything. Sometimes if somebody does something really well, I’ll clap like oh that’s great, and when I clapped once, they all ran to the screen and said thank you, thank you. It was so cute.

And as far as dancing, they were so together; you could tell they had really been trained well. To be doing what they were doing outside, I couldn’t tell what the ground was like, I’m sure it wasn’t the greatest for dance, but they did it.

I just really like the giving side of the arts. The arts are usually considered kind of elitist or more for a certain group of people that can afford certain things, and I don’t think it needs to be that way.

I think if people keep doing things like this, maybe that can change. These virtual ballet classes have made the dance world a lot smaller lately. Being virtual has broadened who all we can see and help.

I’m not taking it lightly, but there are some good things that have happened because of the pandemic. I would say this is one of them, stories like this.