From Dance Model To Role Model: After Heartbreaking Injury, ‘Redhead Ballerina’ Finds True Passion in Teaching
At the age of 4, as legend has it, Kimberly Thompson sat strapped in her car seat on the way to her first dance recital and declared to her mother: “I want to be on stage every day of my life.”
At 24, that stage career she’d worked her whole life to pursue hit a major roadblock. Kimberly was told by an orthopedic specialist that in order to continue dancing full-time, she would need hip replacement surgery.
The official diagnosis was hip arthritis. Kimberly, a professional ballerina who’d been dancing through near-debilitating pain, knew right away: It was time to launch Plan B.
“I certainly went through my time period of, ‘No, this isn’t happening! This isn’t fair!’ because I was so young,” Kimberly recalls. “But after a lot of reflection, I was like, ‘You know what? Everything happens for a reason.’ Because as much as I love being on stage more than anything else, I do feel like my true calling is through teaching.”
This wasn’t a “new” passion for Kimberly, who says she always knew she wanted to teach dance (her mom has stories about that, too!) But the passion has grown a lot stronger in the years since her injury. After building up an extensive network of students in the Washington, D.C. area, Kimberly now calls teaching her Number 1 priority.
She works with an estimated 150 students every week, both virtually through The Washington School of Ballet and in person at Dance Loft on 14, where she is the School Director. She’s also building a mentorship program called “Dear Future Ballerinas,” aimed at helping young dancers develop a positive body image, navigate social media in a healthy way and discover their true passions, with dance as a springboard.
Meanwhile, Kimberly is continuing to dance part-time for Moveius Contemporary Ballet and model professional dance costumes for several different brands, including Art Stone and Costume Gallery. She is a well-known social media influencer who goes by the handle “The Redhead Ballerina.”
“I maybe didn’t have the stage career I wanted,” she says, “so now all of my time and energy pretty much goes to my students. Not that I’m trying to live out my dreams through them, but I see some of these kids that really want it, they want to learn, they’re like, ‘Give me more!’ And I’m like, ‘OK! I will happily give you more!’ To see that and to think back, I’m like, ‘That was so me as a kid,’ and I just want them to have a slightly better experience. I want them to have a healthy experience with ballet.”
Kimberly, a native of Poolesville, MD, says she “didn’t come from a dance family” and had to blindly navigate her way through the dance world. She figured things out as she went, training at Frederick School of Classical Ballet as a child and Maryland Youth Ballet as a teen.
Nothing could have prepared her for the negative comments about her body that she heard along the way.
“I have a muscular build, and the first time I was told I was too big to be a ballet dancer, I was probably about 12, and a teacher said, ‘I can’t believe you fit that costume over your hips,’ “ Kimberly remembers.
“It’s probably something I will never truly get over, even though I’ve been through counseling. A couple years ago, I had a lightbulb moment when I was like, ‘I work really hard for what I have!’ But as a dancer, it is always back there [in your mind], and it hurts me so much seeing these kids struggle with body image.
“I’m a firm believer that, I don’t care what you look like, how you dance, what your level is... there is a place out there for everyone.”
When it comes to body positivity, Kimberly is not all talk. She sets an empowering example for her students with every modeling gig she accepts...or doesn’t accept.
She recalls being approached by renowned dance photographer Omar Robles for his “Bare Sky Dance” series, which depicts dancers posing nude on New York City rooftops. She says the photographer chose her precisely because of her athletic build and “strong look.” And while she turned down the project — “I’m a little more conservative,” she says. — the opportunity boosted her confidence and reinforced her belief that dance should, and can, provide an inclusive and welcoming environment for all individuals.
“I have a thing. I have a very definite look. I have a womanly figure, because I’m a woman,” Kimberly says. “It took a long time to really come into myself and look at myself and be like, ‘This is who I am. Thank you, Mom, for my athletic build!’”
These days, while she still models from time to time, Kimberly is more interested in passing on her body-positive vibes, along with her extensive dance knowledge and life experience, to the next generation.
“I’ve had multiple modeling agencies ask me if I want to sign with them, and I’ve said no,” she says. “I would rather be teaching. Teaching is what I am best at. It is what I love to do.”
Kimberly’s lessons obviously involve precise dance technique. She is, after all, helping to develop “Future Ballerinas.” But she also encourages her students to think outside the studio and beyond the stage, because as she discovered, dance can be a wonderful gateway to living your dreams. Dance doesn’t have to be THE dream.
“I love getting to talk to them and hear what they want to do with their life, and then telling them, ‘This is how ballet will help you with that,’“ she says. “There is so much out there we can do. I mean, I would have envisioned myself still dancing full-time at this point in my life, but I’m a very firm believer that everything happens for a reason. When one door closes, another one opens.”
We’d like to thank Kimberly Thompson for sharing her story and her personal photographs. She is pictured wearing “Let It Go” (Style #29221) from Art Stone’s stunning collection of dance competition costumes. Kimberly can be found online at www.theredheadballerina.com, and on Instagram at @theredheadballerina.