After a 20-year career at the Nashville Ballet, Jon Upleger is returning to Michigan to launch Grand Rapids School of Dance
. The 4,500-square-foot-facility will offer ballet classes for ages 2-18, in addition to adults.
Growing up in Sterling Heights, Michigan, Upleger began dancing at age 15. After studying at the Virginia School of the Arts, he joined the Nashville Ballet. There he took on various roles over two decades, from dancer to teacher and rehearsal director.
“From a fairly young age, I knew I wanted to stay in the dance field after retiring from performing,” says Upleger. “And I was really sort of able to cut my teeth working with all levels throughout the school.”
Courtesy Chad Driver
While at the Nashville Ballet he was able to teach the creative movement and pre-ballet classes, along with the academy, second company and main company. For his last three seasons, he was the rehearsal director, where he had the opportunity to teach company classes and get dancers ready for the stage. He also started a class called Boys Club, which was for young male students ages 3 to 5 at the creative movement level.
Now, after his tenure in Nashville, Upleger is looking forward to moving to Grand Rapids with his wife, Alexandra Meister Upleger, who has danced with the Grand Rapids Ballet for three seasons, and their son, Hudson.
“I’ve always loved Michigan and Grand Rapids is a fantastic city,” says Upleger. “I’m really excited to have had the career that I have in the professional arts [and] ballet art form and then bring that experience up here.”
Grand Rapids School of Dance will offer three creative movement levels (children’s classes), three pre-ballet levels and four academy levels, which go through age 18.
“We want to be a place where you can come and train if you have aspirations of performing professionally and having a career in dance, or if you want to pursue it as a higher education at the university level,” says Upleger. “But at the same time, we want to be a place where you know it’s not necessarily going to be a career that you pursue, but you really enjoy getting into a studio and exploring the art form and experiencing it.”
Classes will officially start Sept. 7, but the School will be hosting an open house Aug. 28-29, with a free sampling of classes from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
”We'll have adult classes going on as well, so if it's something that you don't have much experience in and you want to sort of rediscover dancing as an adult, we're more than happy to have you come in and work with us,” he adds.
“I think what I really want to do with the School, my main goal as director is, I want it to be a space that feels family friendly,” says Upleger. “I want it to be a focused, dedicated space where students come in and they can work hard, but I also want it to be a nurturing place. I want it to be someplace where they feel like they can really sort of explore and foster a love of dance.”