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It’s ballet for ‘real people’

WEST BURBANK — Grandmother-of-two Penny Akwei always loved dancing, but hadn’t done any since she left college 30 years ago. Now she is re-discovering her passion thanks to a new class called “Ballet for Real People.”

Instructor Heather Lea Gerdes has danced professionally since the age of 10. She’s appeared in two Broadway shows, two productions in London’s West End, and was even featured in the movie “Dirty Dancing.”

Although Gerdes still dances professionally sometimes, she now has an office job as the script department supervisor for a production company.

“I feel like at this stage I’m more of a real person; I have a real person job,” she said.


“When you sit at a computer all day you’re not really working with your body and balance and breath. These are real concepts for real people and ballet can work on those things.”

Gerdes plans to make ballet more accessible and created her class to cater for people of all shapes, sizes and ages.

“You have your own body, your own strengths. You should be able to fly across the floor and feel good,” she told students at the Olive Recreational Center on Saturday.

Burbank resident Akwei, 49, said she was slowly re-learning what she had loved so much when she was younger.


“I wanted to get more flexible and get some exercise, too,” she said. “This is only my third or fourth class, but I’m definitely stronger in my legs.”

Stay-at-home mom Barbara Wise, 42, said the classes have made her more aware of her posture.

“I always liked to dance, too,” she said. “You get older and you miss it. Heather is a great teacher — it doesn’t matter that we haven’t danced for a long time. I liked the name of the class because it wasn’t intimidating.”

The classes, which run from 1:30 to 2:45 p.m., cost $70 for Burbank residents, or $75 for nonresidents, for eight lessons. It is too late for interested residents to join the current sessions, but Gerdes said she plans to run the class again in the fall.

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