For hundreds of years, ballerinas have captivated audiences with their graceful steps, elegant lines and effortless strength. With every turn and leap, they have become almost synonymous with beauty and poise.
However, when audiences are watching a ballerina glide across a stage, they usually are not picturing her as a three-year-old twirling around a studio in a pink tutu. For Heather Leeper, nurturing that little girl with big dreams through her own love of dance has become not only her job, but also her passion.
Just one year ago, the 26-year-old Virginia Tech alumna returned to Blacksburg and began teaching dance classes at the YMCA. Today, Leeper is the owner of Little Leapers dance studio in the First and Main shopping center, something she didn’t quite imagine when attending Tech for interior design.
“I went into (interior design), but I never really had that passion for it, said Leeper. “I spent more time working on (Dance Company at Virginia Tech) stuff than I was on school work.”
By no surprise, Leeper has been dancing since she was three years old. Both her mother and grandmother were dancers before her, making dance lessons at a young age an obvious choice. She wasn’t sure if she would dance when she grew up, but she did know that she loved wearing costumes.
Holding true to her three-year-old self, Leeper has worked to incorporate costumes into her unique dance program. In the beginning, Leeper hand-made each costume on her own, but now the Little Leapers costumes are professionally made and branded specifically for the studio.
“Little Leapers is a specialized dance program,” said Leeper. “We use a lot of literature and theatrics to involve the kids in dance so they’re learning that ballet is not just about plies and pointing your toes at the bar.”
Through the Little Leapers program, children between two and seven years old learn technique by reading stories and then acting them out through costumed dance at the end of class.
“Our curriculum is very different from other studios,” said Chelsea McGinnis, who has been teaching at the studio since March. “(The students) learn their stretches and their steps though stories and activities, so they don’t realize that they’re learning.”