(Photos by Julie Berg-Raymond)
(Photos by Julie Berg-Raymond)
There's a new ballet teacher in Decorah, and she's ready to start working with dancers and dancers-to-be of all ages.

Laurie Walter, originally from Randolph, Neb., studied ballet, jazz and tap as a child and knew early on dance would always be an important part of her life.

"I got in the car one night after dance class when I was about 13 and told my Dad that I wanted to be a dance teacher," she recalls. "It has just been something I have loved for so long and have always wanted to share dance with others."

She studied for awhile in Norfolk, Neb., and then attended Luther College in Decorah with the intention of majoring in music education - a plan which changed fairly quickly.

"I realized I was not happy without dance in my life," she says. "I switched to the theater/dance department and immediately knew it was the right decision."

Walter studied with Janette Gillespie and Doug Risner and danced for a year with Amanda Hamp, who is now Luther's assistant professor of dance.

"The program (at Luther) is so welcoming to all students, whether they have previous dance experience or not," Walter says. "That is a philosophy that I want to bring to my classes as well - dance is for everyone."

Walter loves all kinds of dance, but says ballet is her favorite, because "there is so much grace and beauty in the movement."

After graduating from Luther in 1997, Walter moved to Austin, Texas, where she operated a dance studio. When she and her husband, Jarrad, started a family, she - like many a Luther grad before her - decided she wanted to return to Decorah.

"It's such a beautiful town," she says. "My husband and I loved Austin, but we wanted our family to be part of a community. Decorah provides so many different opportunities for both kids and adults."

Eventually, Walter plans to add to those opportunities by opening a dance studio.

"My goal is to offer dance from age three to adult throughout the year, and to offer many different styles (ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, contemporary, ballroom). I want to provide classes for both the casual and more serious dancer. I will offer performances because they allow the students a chance to show what they have been learning and the kids love it. It would be great to offer small performances for the community throughout the year as well."

This year, though, Walter has joined forces with ArtHaus, to offer dance classes for young people in the area; and it couldn't be a better fit. Her philosophy of dance is right in line with ArtHaus' commitment to "bringing visual, performing, and literary art together under one roof and offering creative programs for all ages" (arthausdecorah.org).

"My classes allow the dancer to have fun while focusing on proper technique. I am offering beginning classes for older kids as well," she says. "It is never too late to start learning dance."

Decorah Newspapers recently asked Walter to talk about her approach to teaching, and her thoughts about the arts in general.

DN: What is the most rewarding part of being a dance instructor?

LW: Seeing the smiling faces, watching a student when they realize the moment that they have accomplished a step they have been working on, the transformation when a shy child gets on stage and performs for people.

If there is one thing you could really get across to your students, what is it?

That just like learning a sport or how to play a musical instrument, you get out of it what you put into it. Focusing in class and practicing will help you progress as a dancer.

How, in your opinion, does instruction in dance contribute to a person's life and well-being?

Dance is a fun way to exercise, increases overall flexibility and endurance, and reduces stress by increasing endorphin and serotonin levels. Dance class also can increase self-confidence and provide an expressive outlet. In the adult dancer it helps maintain bone strength, and keeps the brain sharp through recalling steps and patterns.

Why, in your opinion, is a thriving arts community beneficial to all our lives and well-being?

Arts in general bring people together, whether it is through taking class or viewing a showing or performance. The arts also promote cultural diversity and teach people about the world. The young artists from Decorah will grow up and someday share their experiences with other communities.

For more information about the classes Walter is offering through ArtHaus, visit arthausdecorah.org or call 563-382-5440.