Each Friday night, Brent Klopfenstein shows up at the ballet studio owned by him and his wife, Judy, to teach what appears to be a mismatched troupe of dancers.
Lithesome teenage girls are dressed elegantly in leotards, tights and ballet slippers. Their partners? Middle-aged men who, in most cases, are attired in baggy sweat pants, crumpled T-shirts, golf shirts, jeans, sneakers. Some of them even wear bifocals.
Despite their differences – or maybe more to the point, because of them – bursts of giggling can be heard during the one-hour class. Though the girls have taken years of ballet to be in this class, their partners, who also happen to be their fathers, have not.
This, of course, results in some pretty comedic results.
The father/daughter ballet class is taught at the Dallas Ballet Center, the studio owned by the Klopfensteins, who are Lake Highlands residents. It began in 1996, Judy says, when a father of one of the dancers wanted to spend more time with his teenage daughter.
“He was a pilot for American Airlines,” she adds, “and suggested the class for us.”
Since then, the class has become more popular. That first year, six father/daughter pairs enrolled; this season, the class is at maximum enrollment with 14 attendees (girls must be at a certain level in their dance instruction before they can enroll).
It’s popular, Klopfenstein says, for many reasons. But probably the most important among them is that it “brings fathers and daughters to a closer, lasting bonding relationship,” she says.
“Every girl wants the support and love from their fathers – what a great way to be in the arms of someone who loves you more than anything,” she says.
“To watch the daughters and dads working together can be precious,” she adds. “They giggle, laugh, hug and really encourage each other during the class.”
Plenty of the giggling, of course, can be at the expense of the not-always graceful dads, who don’t have the benefit of years of training. “The first class is always interesting for those new fathers,” Klopfenstein says diplomatically.
Kathy Russler, wife and mother to Chuck and Julia Russler, puts it more directly.
“Most of these dads, they have no stage experience. To see them on stage is like watching a deer in the headlights,” she says, referring to the production that takes place at the end of the class’ season. “Their poise is just comical. The wives get the biggest kick out of it.”
For the daughters, however, she adds the fathers’ lack of grace is mostly empowering.
“These girls have been taking dance for many years. They’re graceful, confident, poised and they’re light on their feet,” she says. “And a lot of these dads are just gorillas in a china shop. And I think the girls feel very empowered by that. They know something – and are so much better at something – than their dads are. This is their opportunity to teach their fathers something.”
For their part, the fathers generally agree.
“It’s pretty funny actually,” says Pete Seeley, who’s taking the class for the second time this year. “The daughters are good, the dads are like, ‘Oh my God.’ They will tell us to do some move to the left, and we’re all, ‘Your left? My left?’”
The class, he adds, has given him a new appreciation for daughter Ginny’s dedication.
“She’s a really good ballerina…a real hard worker,” he says. “Those girls, they give you a new appreciation for dance. I’ve gone to some of the recitals, but I’ve gone because my daughter’s in them. Now I realize what kind of strength, balance and hard work it takes to be able to do even the simplest moves.”
And, though the wives might get a kick out of watching their husbands stumble around, the daughters seem to just appreciate the humility it takes for their fathers to be in class with them.
“I think it’s really, really nice of him,” says Ginny, 15. “I know he has things he’d like to be doing, like playing basketball. But he does it every time, and he doesn’t miss a class.”
“And he’s actually gotten really good,” she adds nicely. “Or at least I think he has.”
Asked what it means to her that her dad goes to the class, 15-year-old Julia Russler echoes her friend’s sentiments.
“I think it’s really special because he owns his own business and has to be at work a lot,” she says of her dad, Chuck. “I don’t get to see him a lot during the week, so Friday, when we have class, is like our special time to share together.”
Chuck Russler, who also took the class with his older daughter, Sydney, calls it “another feather in my cap.”
“Not many kids would brag about their dads dancing ballet,” he says. “But they seem to be very happy to have their dads there.”
Kathy Russler adds: “I notice they come home from class and they’re still kind of twirling when they come in the house.”
For Judy Klopfenstein, the best part about including the class in the studio’s schedule is the benefit the girls glean from it.
“To be admired and esteemed by your father is one of the best ways for girls to develop a strong self-confidence and positive self-esteem.”