Welcome to our brand new series, Hello Denver, My Name is… where we profile different people in Denver you probably don’t know, but should. Get ready to meet painters, dancers, comedians, musicians, designers and just generally fascinating people that help make Denver awesome.
Colorado native and ballerina Chandra Kuykendall began dance lessons when she was six-years-old in a nearby neighborhood basement ballet studio. “The studio owner had nail parties for the girls and she owned bunnies,” said Kuykendall. What began as a fun activity became a successful career spanning over two decades. Meet Chandra Kuykendall, one of five principal dancers with the Colorado Ballet.
303 Magazine spent an afternoon with Kuykendall to speak about her background and her life as a ballerina, wife, (at the time pregnant) mother and business owner. She also talked about her future aspirations.
303 Magazine: When did you realize that you had a passion for ballet?
Chandra Kuykendall: When I was nine years old, my dance teacher saw that I had the interest and talent to pursue more intensive training. She spoke with my parents and recommended that I move to a studio that could offer additional classes and instruction. I began lessons with the Colorado Ballet Academy when I was nine-years-old and my first stage performance was as a mouse in the Nutcracker. I’ve been here ever since, with with the exception of the 1998-99 ballet season, when I danced with the Leipzig Ballet in Leipzig, Germany. I was promoted to principal dancer with the Colorado Ballet in 2007.
303: So you knew dance was what you wanted to do from an early age?
CK: I’ve always had a passion for ballet. There was never a question that I would take it as far as I could. I really love what I do and I want to do it as long as possible. I’m thrilled to have celebrated 20 years with the Colorado Ballet.
303: How do you balance your work and home life?
CK: It’s always a challenge to make sure I have enough time for my family and career. As the mother of an eight-year-old son and another baby due in July, I find my family life supports and grounds me. Family helps me focus on what’s really important. I’m lucky because my husband is home during the day and my parents are close by and pitch in when both of us are at work. I do try to keep work at the studio so I can devote my time at home to family activities.
303: Professional Dancing is a physically demanding job. How do you take care of yourself?
CK: I have to take responsibility for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I stick to a diet consisting of lean meats and eggs for protein. I eat lots of vegetables and try to avoid breads and pastas. If I’m craving a treat, I’ll indulge in an oatmeal-raisin cookie, some strawberry shortcake or a dish of vanilla ice cream. I’m not a fan of chocolate though.
In addition to dance classes and rehearsals, I also cross train with Pilates which helps strengthen my core and pinpoints other areas that need attention. Cross training is a great way to strengthen my body and avoid injuries,
303: What does your typical workday look like?
CK: My day begins at 6:30 a.m. when I get up and help get my son ready for school. I’m at the studio from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. five days a week. The workday doesn’t include much downtime aside from short breaks and lunch. In between rehearsal and class schedules, I prepare for roles by watching video, learning new choreography, sewing point shoes and studying. I attend as many of my son’s gymnastics meets as I can. We try to eat dinner together as a family as often as possible and spend a time together in the evening. Then it’s bedtime and we do it all again the next day.
303: With a new baby on the way, will you take maternity leave?
CK: My husband and I believe in having the baby fit into our lives rather than restructuring our schedule for the baby. I plan to come back to work four weeks after the baby is born. Fortunately, I’m due in the summer which is our “off-season.” I should only miss a couple of weeks of the new season if everything goes according to plan. I’ve taken classes and gone to the gym throughout my pregnancy – so I’ve been able to stay in good shape.
303: You and your husband also own a dance school?
CK: My husband was a dancer with the Colorado Ballet – that’s where we met. He retired when we had our first child and runs our dance school in Centennial, CO full-time. We teach students ages two through adult and we offer ballet, tap, jazz and modern dance classes. I do some behind-the-scenes work helping with costuming, finances and private dance lessons. Right now though, my primary focus is my full-time job with Colorado Ballet.
303: What advice would you offer someone who wants a career as a dancer?
CK: Ballet teaches poise, respect and dedication – all valuable life lessons. It’s important to encourage young dancers to see and learn as much as they can. It’s critical to find a balance between accepting constructive criticism while learning not to fall prey to becoming overly self- critical. It’s hard, because you spend eight hours a day looking in a mirror and it can be easy to lose confidence. It’s also important to be a good mentor to others. Finally, be brave enough to live your dream.
303: Any thoughts about what you’d like to do when your dance career ends?
Chandra: For me, dance is my way of life…for a lifetime. I do think about the possibility of going back to school after I retire. I’m interested in math – so maybe I could study architecture. Nutrition also interests me. But who knows? Dancing still feels wonderful.