Learning Center

Faculty Spotlight: Olivia Whelan

It was my wonderful dance teachers, who not only taught me dance steps, but also how to lovingly and gently nurture the next generation. This is my story of how these dance teachers shaped and inspired my life and career.

Tombé pas de bourré, glissade, and saut de chat. I am floating through the air on the small castle stage at Give Kids the World.

Movement has always been a part of me. I was born a dancer.

My body moves to the music, and it is my happy place. Now, I share my joy as I move across the stage. Arabesque and the music ends. Thunderous applause fills my ears as I bow breathless. When I look up, I see small faces looking at me, happy in this moment. I step off the stage to mingle with these sweet children and their eyes light up. As I walk through the room, I lock eyes with one special girl in a wheelchair. She reached out for me and I grasped her hands. Together, we made our own dance, laughing while her mother took pictures. Tears in her eyes, her mother thanked me for playing with her critically ill daughter who rarely moved as it was painful. It was at that moment, at the young age of 10, that I realized the power of positive interactive movement.

I began dancing at the age of 3 and soon after, joined Cambridge School of Ballet under the direction of Lenora Roussou.

In 2012 I joined their company and trained in Ballet, Jazz, Lyrical, Modern, and Tap under the instruction of Stephania Rogers, Chandra Judy, Christal Feldman, and Briana Hofer. This led me to many opportunities to perform and explore movement outside of the structured ballet class. My favorite roles included Aurora from Sleeping Beauty and Clara from The Nutcracker. In 2016 I was granted the opportunity to be a teacher's assistant where I learned the true beauty and efforts of teaching from my own instructors. In 2020, I transitioned to solo teaching Ballet, Jazz, Lyrical, and Tap at CSO Ballet. I expanded my performance base by performing in Central Florida Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker in 2017 and 2019 under the direction of Vladimir Bykov and Vasile Petrutiu. These performance opportunities allowed me to experience professional productions and the high level at which the dancers are held.

My dance teachers are wonderful women who not only taught me dance steps, but also how to lovingly and gently nurture the next generation.

I believe that each child is unique and learns in their own way, so my teaching style needs to change based on the needs of my students. My biggest goal each year is not for amazing technique, however, but for my students to feel safe in my classroom, just as I felt with my own dance teachers. I want them to feel comfortable expressing themselves as they explore movement and develop their individual artistic voice.

When I began teaching, I had no idea how much I would fall in love with teaching the “littles.” My experiences with Give Kids the World as a young dancer showed me that working with children is where I am meant to be. Each encounter with those children was always so intentional which is how I now choose to dance and teach; with intention.

When I plan classes and choreograph, the first thing I do is check my music to ensure that the words are age appropriate. I then consider the movements they know and movements they need to practice and combine them to the music. Kids tend to remember silly things, so if there is a way to make a step comical, I do it! I also have students repeat the dance steps name and definition after me to ensure maximus retention and association with the step itself! There have been many times in my professional dance career where I have found that knowing the definition can aid in executing the step. (For example: Assemblé means to assemble. We assemble the legs together in the air!)

Currently, I am attending the University of Central Florida to achieve my bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology and Exercise Physiology with a minor in Dance.

I have since studied Ballet, Jazz dance, and Modern Contemporary dance through the University of Central Florida under the direction of Judi Siegfreed. Most recently, I had the opportunity to perform in the UCF 2023 Dance Concert, TECH-nique: A Dance Concert under the direction of Judi Siegfreed and Cindy Heen. My choreography was selected for the UCF 2024 Dance Concert, and I could not be more thrilled to share my vision! On top of this, I am a member of the Knights and Damsels Dance Company and the secretary of the Exercise is Medicine Club on campus.

After I graduate, I will be pursuing my masters degree in Occupational Therapy at Advent Health University with my heart set on working in pediatrics.

When I am not dancing, I enjoy Olympic Weightlifting with my brothers and my dad, going to the beach, and spending quality time with my family.

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