Passing on the gift

. September 26, 2012.

Could he have been the next great athlete like Stephen Strasburg or Dirk Nowitski? We’ll never know — Christopher Fellows, an instructor at Toledo’s Dance FX Academy of the Arts, might have been born with an athlete’s build, but the world of sports was too small to hold him. And long before he reached his current height of six foot one, he’d accidentally found his lifelong passion — dance.

“It started when I was six,” Fellows remembers. “My sister was taking ballet classes, and I liked to make fun of them. Then, one day, the teacher challenged me to try it myself.” Ballet wasn’t the most obvious path for a kid growing up in Ithaca, New York, but Fellows took to it immediately. “It was something I had fun doing.”

Fellows trained at the Ithaca Ballet, then moved on to the School of American Ballet in New York City. He studied with the man who’d become his mentor, Azerbaijani dancer Rafael Grigorian. “He brought over a bunch of Russians to do a show on Mark Twain,” Fellows remembers. He then spent 13 full seasons as a professional dancer, with companies in Alabama, Chicago and Milwaukee. “Because of my height I tended to play a fair number of villains,” he says. “Sometimes I’d be passed over for a role because I couldn’t fit into the costume. But sometimes it opened up other opportunities.”

A friend at the Milwaukee ballet recommended Fellows for a guest-teaching job at DanceFX, and he enjoyed the experience. “I always felt there was a lot of potential in this area,” he says. When the full-time job became available, he jumped at the chance to relocate. Now in his fourth year at Dance FX, Fellows is eager to share those opportunities with new dancers, and to show them that they can succeed, despite physical limitations. “I like helping people overcome obstacles and learn something about themselves,” he says. “That discipline to achieve goals can be translated to anything. Even if [students] don’t ‘get it’ until they’re older.” He focuses mainly on ballet, though Dance FX offers instruction from jazz to tap to hip-hop — “pretty much anything you can imagine,” Fellows says. “We like to give all our students an opportunity to get onstage. We have a strong curriculum and there’s a lot of opportunity going forward.”

Fellows is happy to be here, and he takes seriously the opportunity he’s been given. “Anytime you train for something, you have a lot of people who devote time and energy to you, whether you realize it or not. I feel like it’s a responsibility to pass on what you’ve learned. It’s the only way to keep the art form alive.”

There’s nothing more precious than passing on your art to your own children, and Fellows has that opportunity, too. His five-year-old son, Aidan, is taking lessons at Dance FX, and Fellows couldn’t be happier. “He likes moving, and being around other kids,” Fellows says. But he knows that every child eventually chooses his own path, and he’s at peace with that. “If he’s not enjoying it,” Fellows wryly muses, “maybe I should push him to football.”