When JoEllen Hansen Kuhlman was kicked out of her ballet class, the lobby full of parents could not help but laugh.
After all, parents observing a beginner ballet class don’t usually see a 3-year-old student critiquing the dancers.
Kuhlman’s mom, and dance instructor, had warned her not to correct her fellow students. Nevertheless, Khulman, who started to dance almost as soon as she could walk, wanted to dance at a higher level, like her mom.
“I would go around and fix their feet in [ballet] first position,” Kuhlman said with a laugh “I didn’t listen.”
Foreshadowing at its best, this 3-year-old grew to become a dance professor at Binghamton University and a dance instructor/choreographer at her mom’s studio Kathy Hansen’s School of Dance (KHSOD).
It was never a question as to what profession Kuhlman would decide to pursue; dance has always been her passion. About a year after receiving her bachelor’s degree in Dance from Point Park University, Kuhlman was teaching at KHSOD.
Fred Weiss, a former dance professor at BU, observed Kuhlman teach a class at her mom’s studio in 2004. As a result, he recommended the Owego native teach at BU.
“I got a phone call from Fred and I was hired on the spot,” said Kuhlman.
Working at BU has become a gateway of opportunities for Kuhlman. She has not only taught dance classes but also, choreographed annual main-stage musicals and dance shows. In 2007, she became the artistic director for Binghamton University’s Continuing Outreach Summer Dance Program.
If Kuhlman were not teaching and choreographing, her ideal alternative would be to perform with a modern, jazz, or tap company. Regardless, her family and husband, especially her mom, never let Kuhlman doubt herself and help her stay motivated.
“When Jo teaches she isn’t afraid to say things that other instructors won’t,” said Vivake Kamsingsavath, a recent graduate who didn’t start dance training until his junior year. “She explains things- where movement comes from and why it’s there.”
Now, with Kuhlman’s instruction, the hip hop artist appears to have been dancing all his life.
“I didn’t know I could [incorrectly] pointe and flex my foot at the same time,” said Kamsingsavath.
He started working specifically with Khulman his senior year at BU. Being part of the cast in Kuhlman’s 2010 dance show Pygmalion: A Lyrical Ballet was, he said, inspiring.
“I want to help make dancers better,” said Kuhlman, “especially technically, because the dance program [at BU] is starting to grow. We’re having main-stage dance shows every year now.”
Just like Kamsingsavath, students who participate in dance classes on campus have the opportunity to strengthen their technical skills and become inspired to audition for future dance shows.
The pocket-sized, Victoria’s Secret sweats-loving lady is often found walking her shih tzu around the Fine Arts building. Outside the dance studio, Khulman has a bunch of hobbies that keep her bubbly self busy. Kuhlman loves playing tennis, scrap-booking, going to the beach, swimming, playing with her dog, Owen, and just being lazy outside.
“Jo in three words: passionate, humble, and dedicated,” said Kimberly Billera, a senior psychology major.
She has taken Kuhlman’s classes for the last three years and was not intimidated as a sophomore transfer student. The comforting, yet challenging atmosphere of Kuhlman’s classes is definitely encouraging, a stress reliever, and fun, she said.
“She’s just super happy. She’s always happy,” Billera said with a laugh, “You can’t help but feel happy too.”