The BalletMet Academy co-founder talks about the evolution of arts in Columbus, the benefits of dance and why she loves working with children.

Under the watchful eye of Daryl Kamer, several generations of dance students have twirled, hopped and pirouetted through BalletMet Academy.

Kamer, who helped found BalletMet in 1974, has served in a variety of roles at the academy she co-founded, including director of education, academy director, academy associate director and faculty member (her current position).

She and her husband, Jack, a retired stagehand at the Ohio Theatre, have two daughters (Darielle, who has taught at BalletMet, and Amy, who works at Nationwide) and two grandsons. 

What are your current responsibilities at BalletMet Academy?
I teach some of the younger children’s classes. I also teach some adult classes. On a personal level, teaching has always been so rewarding to me on a number of different levels. I respect young children so much because they are there and open and honest, and they’re an open book.

I see them grow physically, and in many ways, have a much better understanding of how to connect mind to body—how to make themselves work when it’s hard and they have to push themselves. And I love that because everything that they learn in a ballet class in terms of the discipline, the commitment to something, transitions over into anything else they do as they get older. 

Even if a student doesn’t pursue a dance career, why is the training beneficial?
You are a lot of times pushed to do things that challenge your mind and your body physically, and so you have to develop that sense of yourself.

Time management is a big thing. We have students that come and dance every day at BalletMet. They also must do their homework. They are frequently in some other school activity. And so [it’s] the planning that that takes and also the family support that that takes—because, let’s face it, these are children that are also depending upon somebody to get them to their classes, to see that they have food, that they have nourishment and be able to keep going. 

Does the community have a greater interest in dance than when BalletMet started
Columbus has grown considerably. As Columbus has grown, so have the arts developed and grown. And so there is, I think, a much greater interest in the arts in general, which has impacted the training opportunities for young people.

What I see is [parents] being very aware of the importance of good, solid education for their children in the arts. They start to be more selective. “What am I looking for? What kinds of opportunities should my child have in terms of the training and education of the person who’s going to be teaching that child? The facility that I’m taking the child to—what kind of floors should they be dancing on?” 

How has the academy evolved since the early days?
We have been through different academy directors, and, as with our artistic directors, it’s been so interesting to watch that process because each one of them has brought something really so important to the development of both the company and the academy simultaneously. For instance, our current director of the academy, Maria Torija, has a wonderful syllabus coming from her own background that really gives such a developmental and incremental process … from the very young child to the most advanced. 

When you see your students onstage, can you enjoy it, or is it nerve-wracking?
If I’m backstage—helping to be sure they get on, they’re ready to go, you can see that they’re focused, they’re ready to take the stage—my mind is working more from that standpoint. Although I can find moments when I say, “Oh my gosh. Somebody wasn’t quite on the beat,” or that kind of thing. But when I’m sitting out in the audience, I just sit back and enjoy them. 

With two young daughters to raise while working at BalletMet, how did you balance everything?
You just used the word that I was going to key in on, and that’s “balance.” You know, when you’re really honest about it, I’m not sure that I found always a really good balance. When you have a performance that has to go on, it has to happen. And if you have something else that is going on, yes, if your children were ill, you stayed with them. But finding that balance is the key: being sure that you are there for them when they need you. 

Do you have a favorite ballet?
I love the classics. And yet, as a young person, I was not exposed to so much other than the classics, so it has been a little bit later in my own life that I have witnessed more contemporary works, and I have absolutely fallen in love with certain things.

For instance, [artistic director Edwaard Liang’s] “Murmuration,” I sat in my seat with tears streaming down my face. I couldn’t move. My whole world of dance has opened up from where I was as a child, when if it was something more contemporary, I didn’t connect with it. 

What do you do when you’re not at BalletMet?
I wish I could say that, “Oh yes, I do all of these other things.” I like to read, and I try to keep up on current events as much as possible. But I have to say that between teaching and then when we have performances … there isn’t anything in particular. I like to cook. I’m not a particularly good cook. 

Do you ever see yourself retiring?
I thank the good Lord every day when I get up and I’m able to move and do and stretch, but you also have to be realistic. I hope I can be involved in some capacity. Now, very honestly, I don’t mind going down and sending out something or licking envelopes or stamping things or whatever. I would volunteer doing whatever I could do. 

Why did you want a career teaching young people?
When I talk to the children sometimes, when I’ve had to be a little bit difficult with them, a little hard on them, I always remind them: I love the art form that I’m teaching, and I love the children I’m teaching—and the adults, as well. I think it just distills down to that. When you love what you’re doing, and you love the people you’re doing it with, what could be more perfect?

A shorter version of this Q&A appears in the Summer 2019 issue of Columbus Parent.