School of Dance
is more than a job for Gillman
CRESTWOOD, Ky. The absence of government regulation has allowed
hundreds of dance schools to flourish throughout the country in recent
But few are run by professional dance instructors or by those with the
true qualifications to teach.
by Don Ward
left, school director
Denise Gillman Burke instructs
sisters Caroline, 7, and Charlotte
Rohan, 10, of Pewee Valley.
Denise Gillman Burke, a professional dancer with the Louisville
Ballet, knows the problem too well. That's part of the reason why she
decided to start teaching tap, jazz and ballet dance classes in her
home last year.
The overwhelming response this year forced her to open her own dance
studio, complete with a state-of-the-art hardwood sprung dance floor,
mirrors and rails.
Her 1,000-square-foot studio, located just off Hwy. 22 in Crestwood,
Ky., was built by her father, a contractor by trade. The building has
plenty of room for her to expand with a second studio when, and if,
the time comes.
For now, she can accommodate more than 100 dancers in weekly classes
that range from age 3 to adult. Classes are organized into two semesters,
with a recital planned around April. The second semester will begin
in January 2000.
Burke, who teaches all the classes, recently finished her first semester
at her new school. She had 67 students, which she considered good for
She is now holding registration for her 12-week fall semester, which
begins Sept. 13. The classes range in price from $70 to $80, depending
Classes for 3-4 year-olds last 45 minutes. Classes for older students
and adults are longer.
"The younger students ages 3 and 4 learn basic
creative movements because at very young ages, you have to be careful
to avoid injuries," Burke said. "Small bodies can't be turning
out or pointing. We focus on marching, skipping and bending their knees."
Older students, however, explore all facets of dance, depending on the
"It's not like high school gym class, where you have kids running
around screaming. It's a very organized session of instruction."
All classes are conducted to music and song. Students are responsible
for purchasing their own tights, leotards and shoes, which these days
can cost as little as $25.
"Some students really get into it and buy expensive dance clothes,
but that's not necessary. You can get what you need at Wal-Mart,"
Graduates have many opportunities in the area, should they choose to
pursue their talent. The University of Louisville has a dance program,
as do several neighboring cities. Many colleges also offer scholarships
Seventeen-year-old Kim Biss of La Grange took classes this summer with
Burke in preparation for her upcoming freshman semester at Butler University,
where she plans to continue in dance.
"Denise was fundamental to my growth in dance," Biss said.
"She has an incredible level of skill and compassion, which makes
her a wonderful teacher."
The new dance school has been Burke's dream, after having spent much
of her life as a professional dancer. She still dances with the Louisville
Ballet and was in last season's productions of Don Quixote and The Nutcracker.
Her credentials are impressive. A member of the London-based Imperial
Society of Teachers of Dance, Burke travels the world to teach dance.
She recently returned from Vancouver, British Columbia, and plans an
upcoming trip to Scotland.
She would like to continue performing but now must balance her career
with her new school.
"Unlike some dance school instructors, this won't just be something
I do on the side of my regular job, this is my life," Burke said.
"My goal is to turn out dancers, so that one day I can watch my
students in the Louisville Ballet."
A native of Ann Arbor, Mich., Burke began dancing at age 8 and later
earned a scholarship to the prestigious National Ballet School of Canada,
a Toronto-based boarding school for serious dancers.
She danced professionally in Pittsburgh for several years and became
the Ballet Mistress, or chief instructor, at Carnegie Mellon University.
She also spent four years working as a ballet dancer in Las Vegas, Nev.
"I was not a showgirl," Burke says with a smile. "This
was serious stuff at the Nevada Dance Theatre."
She moved to Louisville three years ago when her husband, Jim, began
flying for the United Parcel Service.
Denise also flies, but lands with elegance and grace. Although she's
married now, she used her maiden name, Gillman, for her new school because
it is a name that many in the dance world would recognize. The many
plaques and certificates hanging in her new studio are testaments to
"This school has been a dream of mine for a long time," she
said. "I'm not in it for the money but to teach dance and promote
the art locally.
Back to September 1999