Spokane teenager Harris Kahler is poised to leave home this month to attend Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, the oldest performing arts boarding school in the country.
Kahler, 17, has been dancing ballet for six years, but it was a hard sell at first. Kahler is one of seven children, most of whom are involved in theater, but one of his sisters wanted to take tap dance classes six years ago. While searching for classes for her, their mother spotted free ballet classes for boys and signed her son up.
At the time, Kahler wanted to play baseball. “I was so mad about it,” Kahler said.
But he went, grudgingly. “There may have been some bribery involved,” said his mother, Erika Kahler.
He started taking two ballet classes a week. He was soon partnered with Ryan Ham, who was two years younger.
“We clicked right away,” Kahler said. “She was the one girl who wasn’t ‘Ew, cooties.’ I started having fun. I started loving it.”
Ham’s mother asked him to consider doing dance competitions with his sister, and Kahler signed up. He hasn’t looked back since.
Kahler now trains 25 to 30 hours a week, splitting his time between Spokane Ballet and Artistry in Motion so he can dance more hours. Kahler attends Community School, and this last year he has been working at the cafeteria before school and at lunch. After school he heads to his first ballet class and his mother often brings him dinner to eat while she drives him to his second school.
“It’s been a busy four years,” his mother said.
Kahler has been doing summer intensives for the last several years and just returned from one at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, which specializes in male ballet dancers. Kahler said he’s often the only boy in class, and it was a treat to take classes from male instructors and be in a class of all boys.
“It’s more intense training,” he said of the summer intensives. “It’s really hard training and weekend classes. It’s super fun.”
The family has been discussing sending Kahler to a performing arts boarding school for over a year. Kahler said he just needs a bigger school in order to be challenged and achieve his goal of being a professional dancer.
“I need to get more training,” he said. He said he likes Interlochen because it has male ballet teachers in addition to a good academic program.
“Everything about the school I’m really excited about,” he said. “It’s going to be really cool.”
He’s also looking forward to having more free time because his school and dancing will all be on the same campus, and he won’t have to spend time traveling back and forth.
“Balancing the crazy dance schedule with school and a social life is crazy,” he said. “I have very, very little time to hang out with my friends.”
Crazy schedule aside, Kahler said he’s glad he found dance. He had tried theater like his siblings did, but “it wasn’t really my thing,” he said. “When I started ballet, I found my one little niche I enjoyed.”
Dancing at a high level doesn’t just require time, it requires repetition, precision and focus. Even the position of your fingers is important, Kahler said.
“It can be physically straining and stuff,” he said. “You have to constantly pay attention.”
After his senior year at Interlochen, Kahler wants to get a college degree and also wants to dance professionally.
“When I’m done dancing, I want to come back to Spokane,” he said.
When he comes back his goal is either to take over an existing dance studio or start his own. He said he wants to be able to provide the more advanced instruction that he’s having to leave Spokane to get.
While Kahler has received a scholarship that covers a portion of the cost to attend Interlochen, his family has started a GoFundMe account, bit.ly/31sLfdj, to raise money for his stay there.
His mother said that while she’s proud of her son’s dancing ability, she’s also proud of who he is as a person.
“He’s really compassionate,” she said. “He’s developing that character I’m insistent about. I’m not raising divas here.”
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