Dance Draws Kentlands Families Together

Heather (left) and Carli Katz as Mother Ginger and Angel in “The Nutcracker.”

The demands of today’s society often make carving out family time difficult. Cross-county schedules and overlapping activities can pull kids and parents in many different directions. Two Kentlands families, however, are bonding through dance.

Heather and Jeff Katz are parents to three children — ballet dancers Carli (7) and Lili (4), and hip-hop dancer Austin (9) — all of whom take classes at Metropolitan Ballet Theatre and Academy (MBT) in Rockville, Md. Said Heather, a former dancer herself, “They always knew they were going to take ballet classes.”

As her children began dance classes, Heather restarted her dance career. “I did not dance from the time I was about 24 years old until this past year … so I took a big hiatus,” she said. “I was terrified … but I loved it and have been dancing maybe three to four days a week now. So all four of us go to MBT!”

For Heather, watching daughter Carli glide across the floor is “wonderful … ballet having been a big part of my life as a child.”

Dancing has also become a family affair for the Heller family. Cheryl and Mike Heller’s daughter, Annebeth, 11, started dancing at Ballet Petite at the age of 2, and according to mom Cheryl, “liked it and stuck with it.” Annebeth has been dancing at MBT since she was 4 and said she now spends five or six days a week at the studio.

When Annebeth started dancing in “The Nutcracker,” Mike volunteered as a parent dancer. Said Cheryl, “She was nervous to be onstage. … He told her that he had never done anything like that, but if she wanted to do it, he would do it with her.”

Since then, Mike has been part of four more performances. Cheryl, too, participated as a party scene parent in “The Nutcracker” this year.

According to both families, the dance company not only teaches students of all ages proper technique for their grand jetes and fouettes, but also a sense of community and mutual respect.

“With all of the parent volunteers that are making costumes or working backstage or working onstage, it’s a big time commitment, and everyone spends a lot of time there and time together,” said Cheryl. “So you really get to know all the families.”

Heather, who performed as Granny and Mother Ginger in this year’s “Nutracker” in addition to working backstage, added, “It’s like a really awesome family. … Everyone is really close.”

During the performances, dancers of all ages bond. Said Carlie, “I made of a lot of friends there. The older [dancers] take care of the younger ones.”

Members of both the Heller and Katz families participate in MBT’s community outreach programs in which all dancers can participate. Though Annebeth’s busy schedule often conflicts with the outreach performances and events, she was able to participate in concerts held for Girl Scouts, who can stay after the performances and talk to the older dancers about their experiences. In another project, Heather will participate in adult program outreach performances in May.

With the many performances and classes, dancing takes a significant amount of both families’ time.

“Just recently we performed … ‘Thumbelina,’” said Annebeth. “I had two roles because someone had a prior commitment that they couldn’t miss. So I was a fairy and a beetle!”

Said Cheryl, “It is time consuming. [Annebeth’s] rehearsals are several hours on Saturday afternoon. … For example, last weekend Annebeth went at 12:30 for a class, and we didn’t pick her up until 5:30 because she had rehearsal.”

The younger Katz children have to spend less time at the studio — Carli and Austin each spend an hour a week and Lili 45 minutes.

Said Heather, “The biggest time commitment is for me!”

Still, the families have found dance has both helped them develop community and family bonds and provided them with a healthy and enjoyable lifelong activity.

“It’s great because it’s one of those things you don’t think you can do all your life … but you can!” said Heather.

MBT, a nonprofit arts education organization, will relocate to a new facility in 2014 due to new property development at its current site. Two properties in Gaithersburg are under consideration for the relocation: on Gaither Road and on Perry Parkway. To learn more about MBT, visit