Newman University Assistant Professor of Biology Jenifer Leming has a special Christmas tradition connection. She was a ballet dancer for most of her youth and performed in several productions of “The Nutcracker” at different stages of her life.
Jenifer started dancing when she was just 5 years old and continued until she was 18. Currently, she studies belly dancing at Amira Dance Productions in Wichita. She not only found a special connection to dancing, rhythm and music — Jenifer also found her love for teaching through ballet.
Her first performance in “The Nutcracker” was at the age of 6.
“I was in three productions, at the ages of 6, 12, and 16. My first role was a Polichinelle at age 6,” explained Jenifer. “I played one of the little children dressed as a clown who emerges from a giant hoop skirt with other Polichchinelles to dance the part of the Polichenelle candies. I was clearly slightly traumatized because I remember every detail. Being under that giant skirt with the other children, I was just trying my best not to get stepped on or squished.”
Jenifer danced in the “Waltz of the Flowers” at age 12 and then finished at age 16 as the Sugar Plum Fairy. She added that she was very attached to the tutu she wore as the Sugar Plum Fairy and still has the costume today.
The memories of dancing in the production, the choreography she worked hard to learn and memorize, followed her into adulthood.
“I knew “The Nutcracker” really well. I had a DVD of the stage production that I watched all the time. Even today when I’m walking through the mall and hear the music of the Sugar Plum Fairy, I can still feel the music and will even start dancing a little as I walk.”
Connecting performance and teaching
She said her perfectionist nature only fueled her love for dance because she was constantly finding ways to improve her skill and eventually help other children improve.
When Jenifer was 14 years old, an instructor at her dance studio asked her if she would like to teach a younger class and she jumped at the chance, adding that she quickly developed the “teaching bug.”
“When I realized I wanted to teach, I thought seriously about being a professional ballet dancer, but instead I chose to attend college. While I was at the University of Notre Dame, I began working as a lab assistant and tutoring a lot.”
Jenifer discovered that she could translate her ballet instruction skills and talent into the college classroom.
“Working with the kids (at the ballet studio) meant keeping their attention and teaching them to build on their creativity. I used the skills I gained from being theatrical and engaging with the kids in ballet and translated into being a teacher at the university.”
Jenifer began teaching biology at Newman University in the fall of 2017. She said she has thoroughly enjoyed her time at Newman and has loved getting to know the students she teaches.
She said she hopes her students will continue the cancer research work she introduced to them while teaching a class at Newman.
The next step in Jenifer’s journey will take her to Houston at the end of 2018 where her husband has found a job. She said she is sad to leave the Newman campus, but looks forward to being reunited with her husband, who has already relocated to Houston.
“I’m not sure what I’ll do yet, I don’t have a job lined up as of right now. I’m just looking at all my options.” She added that she will be looking at teaching positions, research opportunities and maybe even looking at teaching ballet at some point.
One thing she knows for sure — she will continue studying belly dancing and has already been given some connections to studios in Houston. She said dancing will always be a part of her life.