In Search Of…Kennet’s Grace

A ballet master is teaching so much more than great dance

‘Ballet La Crosse’ is putting the finishing touches on a full length performance of Cinderella. “We recognize that we are producing this for kids that love dance but for an audience of people we want to grow in to loving dance.”

Love of dance is an important part of life here at Misty’s and a big reason behind launching the pre-professional ballet school in 2011. “When we talk about the pre-professional students, we are talking about a group of students, we are talking about a very intense group of kids who get out of school early and they’ve really dedicated their time to train in the classical arts.  And they are really going places.”

But before the school could open its doors, Misty knew she needed to bring in instructors that specialized in classical ballet. Which is where Kennet Oberly enters the picture. Kennet had visited Misty’s studio over the years as a guest choreographer. He has a long list of professional successes including the title ‘ballet master.’ When Kennet and his ballerina wife Larissa learned of Misty’s need, they uprooted their life in Columbus, Ohio and moved to La Crosse. “To get a call from a world renowned ballet master and to hear that the reputation we have established here made him want to be here…it is a huge honor.”

From the start, Kennet brought with him a passion for dance and love of teaching that was embraced by everyone fortunate enough to work with him. “Mr. Kennet is a gentle giant and he has found that when you lead with love in a classroom amazing things will happen.”

Sally Eberlein is one his pre-professional students. “So I dance with him almost every day. He gets to try to know his dancers on a more personal level which I think is very special. I think one of the biggest lessons I have learned from him personally is that I should always put others before myself no matter what. And I should always come in high spirits and always be hopeful and be brave and strong no matter how hopeless it seems.”

It’s a lesson Kennet himself has had to learn the hard way. “It’s funny how those moments stick in your mind and  I remember the first time I noticed something wasn’t right.  We were in the break room and he was getting a cup of tea and commenting how the cup would slip out of his hand. But we were kind of able to explain it away as an injury that somehow resurfaced.”

It was not an old injury. Strength problems would turn in to balance problems and last summer that turned into a diagnosis. Of all the incurable diseases to have, perhaps the worst for a dancer is ALS. “And from there it slowly spread. And now…it  effects of my speech,” says Oberly.

ALS, is a nervous system disease that causes muscle weakness, affecting walking, swallowing, speaking and eventually breathing. And there is no cure. “You are very isolated with the lack of communication,” says Oberly. “I just can’t get up and show them anymore.”

But as only a true ballet master can do, when facing the most difficult challenges, you do so with absolute grace.  “Life is what it is. What are you going to do? You do your best. But always keep going. When you stop going you stop living. Sure I could sit here and cry, but doing that I am closing myself off. So we all have that in life. We have to keep going, keep discovering and keep working until, call it what you may…destiny decides.”

Mr. Kennet knew the best place to take this battle was inside the walls here at Misty’s. “Any medicine won’t help unless there is a life force within and that needs motivation. And this place is full of that.”

“Kennet is leading the way in terms of how we handle the situation with the kids. He doesn’t ever let their be an elephant in the room which is wonderful. He talks about his condition, he wants the kids to ask about his condition, Their very aware and so in that sense it has been normalized.”

While his shell may be changing his students know the man inside is not. “It’s really tough,” says Eberlein. “It’s scary but he makes it work and we all love him for it and I just try to be as bright and shiny as I can for him.”

Misty has to fight back tears when thinking about the real life journey  this experience has been. “Our mission at the studio is to grow and inspire and when we started, we thought it would be all about the kids. But now to know that it is a full circle experience. It is not just about the kids, these kids are lifting up their teacher. I cant think of a more redemptive story than to see that love going full circle.”

“Coming in here and working with the kids here has been the biggest healing for me because it’s about the give and take. And what are we giving and taking? And that is pure love.”

He can no longer teach the way he always has and yet somehow Kennet Oberly may just have choreographed the greatest lesson of their lives.