Amanda Neikirk: Passing the barre
Children handle tryouts in a variety of ways. Clammy hands, quivering lower lips, and a cold, dry sweat are all possibilities. Others thrive and use opportunities and preparation to succeed. At 15, Rollings Middle School of the Arts dance teacher Amanda Neikirk experienced a little of both when she tried out for the renowned Kirov Academy.
“I was petrified,” she laughed. “It did not go well at all and the other kids were way more advanced than I was. I guess (the judges) saw raw ability in me because I ended up getting accepted.”
Neikirk said that she learned a lot at Kirov about mechanics, technique and how the body works. The Charlottesville, Va. native met her future mentor, Alla Sizova, while at the Washington school.
“She was the biggest influence on me. She would physically place you in the position that you need to be in and she was just a great teacher.”
During the summers she went to summer programs including San Francisco and the American Ballet Theatre in New York. After high school she was accepted into the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, but after being told she could not attend college too, she turned the offer down.
Neikirk attended Indiana University where she studied classical ballet and worked with another famed dancer.
“I was really excited that I got to learn under Violet Verde. The grading was all performance-based and we were graded day-to-day on our practice and performance.”
After college she attended a summer program at the Charleston Ballet Theatre and was offered a yearlong apprenticeship. Neikirk was unable to support herself and worked at Kominsky’s part-time to make ends meet. After leaving the CBT another opportunity presented itself.
“I went to dance at the newly-formed Atlantic Southeast Ballet with dancers from all over,” she said. “We prepared for months for our performance of Giselle. We performed once and then the whole thing folded.”
Neikirk needed to make a living and started teaching Pilates classes at Ecofitness and dance at Dance Explosion. She also took all of her prerequisites at Trident Tech to become an occupational therapist when she heard about an opening at RMSA.
“I interviewed with Larry Barnfield, Linda Huffman and Kathy Sanoleski, began training and three days later I was the teacher,” she said of her whirlwind beginnings. “It was great, everyone was so helpful and so inviting.”
Little did she know that she would meet her future husband Daniel Neikirk at Rollings. The couple got married in 2010 and have a 14-month-old daughter Aileen.
The uniqueness of the children she teaches makes her job rewarding, she said.
“This school is different because the kids who go here really want to be here. It’s a joy to see that and it makes you work harder for them.”
Similar to her audition when she was 15 years old, her new job brought her a trial from which she didn’t back down.
“Working here you have different kinds of kids with different backgrounds. You have to look at each individual and how they learn, then work to develop each child. It was a challenge at the beginning, but I have embraced it.”