Trained at the Royal Ballet School in London, Jennifer Bell-Grey returns to her Kauai roots to share her lifelong passion for dance with students of all ages
Jennifer Bell-Grey’s dream came true at age 13, when she found herself on stage at London’s Royal Opera House dancing for Royal Ballet School.
“When I’m dancing, I feel part of the elements, like I can forget who I am,” she says.
She was only 3 years old when she first realized her dream. She was living in Hong Kong at the time and was captivated by the Royal Ballet’s televised performance of Swan Lake.
“I was taken over by this other world,” says Bell-Grey, whose father immediately enrolled her in ballet classes.
A few years later, they moved to Thailand, where her dancing largely came in the privacy of her home.
“The only way I really expressed myself was when the music was on,” says Bell-Grey, who is bilingual in Thai.
By age 9, she’d moved to England, at which point she auditioned for and was accepted by Legat School of Dance. She admits she didn’t have professional training at the time, and that the boarding school was a frightening experience.
“I don’t know what my dad was thinking,” she jokes.
But even though she was the youngest in her class with no professional background, she persevered. Bell-Grey, who was born in California and raised on Kauai until she was 3, took private lessons after class to learn the techniques, and by age 11 was accepted into Royal Ballet School, where she eventually was selected to perform her beloved Swan Lake.
Now she helps make dreams come true for other aspiring dancers. Bell-Grey achieved a diploma in 1998 from Royal Ballet’s teachers course and Royal Academy of Dancing. She moved back to the island shortly thereafter and started her own dance company, Kauai Dance Center. Since then, she has taught scores of eager keiki and adults the art of ballet, hip-hop,
Flamenco and modern dance – and some students are following in her ballet academy footsteps.
“You get to be part of the fabric of things,” she says, regarding one of the most rewarding aspects of being a teacher and becoming such an intimate part of people’s lives.
Though she still performs occasionally, her time is mostly dedicated to improving her dancers’ technique. Bell-Grey does so by offering classes for children and adults ages 3 to 86. While there are many children who are interested in learning dance, her adult dance classes are quite popular.
“Everyone can do it,” she says.
In fact, some of her students didn’t start dancing until they were in their 50s. They always had the desire, but were too scared. Now, they look forward to attending class every week.
“Step over the scary line that sometimes holds people back from doing things that are perceived to be challenging,” advises Bell-Grey.
“Many people would feel better knowing they had that option of self-expression.”
Bell-Grey also has an online dance studio with nine instructive videos that students can download and use at home. She warns, however, that dancing is not as simple as it seems.
“Ballet looks so effortless and easy,” she says.
But it is difficult work. Still, the benefits of dancing are endless, according to Bell-Grey, including an enhanced mind-body connection as well as improved posture.
“The way you stand affects how you think and react in the world, and gives you confidence,” she notes.
Since she opened her company, Bell-Grey has been perfecting the posture of students by offering classes at rented spaces, including the former Princeville spa. Now she is excited to be opening her own studio in Nawiliwili this month.
“It’s a natural progression to finally have your own space,” she says.
On Feb. 1, Bell-Grey’s dance company will have a winter recital in the new space, where students will have the opportunity to present their class work to others. The performance is a springboard for Kauai Dance Center’s larger benefit and performance in the summer.
When Bell-Grey isn’t preparing her students for performances or teaching them dance technique, she is spending time with her family – husband, singer/songwriter Mel, and their daughter, Cleopatra (2), who is a ballet dancer in training.
Bell-Grey’s multicultural upbringing has provided her with a wealth of sophistication and knowledge, including creating origami, like the lotus flower she shaped during her interview with Midweek Kauai. But one of her main life lessons she hopes to get across to her students is to never give up on their dreams.
There are three separate performances to be staged at the new studio (3285 Waapa Road next to Nawiliwili Park). Feb. 1, 10-11 a.m. ages 3 to 8; 12:30-1:30 p.m. ages 7 to 11; and 3-4 p.m. ages 11 to 18. Tickets cost $5 and can be purchased at Magic Dragon Toy and Art Supply in Princeville and Progressive Expressions in Koloa, or by calling Kauai Dance Center at 823-9588. Visit kauaidancecenter.com for more information.