By Sheila McCoy
Julie Abraham of Long Prairie has little time to wind down. Throughout most of the year, she is busy planning, coordinating and teaching a wide variety of dance classes. She is the program director for the Long Prairie Area Just For Kix.
Abraham’s love for dance is evident throughout her life. Growing up in Starbuck, she was a cheerleader in high school and later joined her college dance team. Prior to that, she also took ballet and tap dance classes.
Abraham and her husband, Jay, moved to Long Prairie in 1995, when he was hired by a local business. Abraham worked as a paralegal from home for a law firm in Brainerd.
When a fellow dance teacher told her the Just For Kix headquarters in Brainerd was seeking someone to teach dance in Long Prairie, Abraham applied.
“I figured it would be something fun to do. I have always loved dance, so it was a neat opportunity,” she said.
Abraham said there is some confusion whether or not there was a pre-existing Just For Kix program in Long Prairie before she began. Some say there was; others say that it was a regular dance class. Yet despite the confusion, it is clear that Abraham has been influential in bringing the Long Prairie Area Just For Kix program to where it is today.
When Abraham started directing in 1996, the program offered two classes with nine students attending. Today, she has about 240 dancers and offers 14 full-season classes, ages preschool through 12th grade.
“The best part of teaching is that I get to see the kids grow, develop in their skill and just really get to know their personalities. I just like spending time with them,” she said.
The main focus is on kick dancing, known for its precision and intricate formation changes with kick lines and unique kick sequences.
“Precision dance is the kind of style that the famous Rockettes in New York City performs,” she said.
Today, Abraham also offers her students classes in jazz, ballet, lyrical and hip hop.
Even though there are different styles of jazz dance, one common characteristic is the combination of footwork and movement with difficult technical components, such as leaps and turns.
Ballet, on the other hand, has many times been considered the foundation for the other dance styles, since it helps the dancers to become stronger and more flexible.
Lyrical dancing is a mixture of jazz, ballet and other styles. The dancing helps tell the story of the song being danced to.
Hip hop is a very energized style with hard hitting movements and body isolations, Abraham said.
A lot of work goes into planning each class, season and routine. It is a full-time job. Every summer, Abraham attends training to stay updated.
“It can be challenging to always keep it fresh and new to the kids, so it’s not the same as the year before,” she said. “You want it to be different, so they can improve their skill level.”
Another challenge is to get the different groups ready for shows and competitions. Sometimes it’s just a matter of helping her dancers keep their nerves in check and encouraging them to be their very best.
Since dance is a fun activity that brings a lot of enrichment to children, some people forget it is also a business, Abraham said. With it comes the same responsibilities that any business has, including ensuring that enough revenue is taken in to keep afloat, paying rent for the dance location and music licenses for the right to use the music the children dance to, she said.
This year, with over 130 programs across Minnesota, Abraham was chosen as “Director of the Year” by Just For Kix. She was also chosen for the same award in 1999.
Abraham said the award is based on the quality of the program a community has, what opportunities are provided and generally whether the director is a role model in the community.
“I’m excited to be able to offer a program like this in a rural area,” she said.
When not involved in the Just For Kix, Abraham usually finds something else she can do to help in the community. Once a week, she serves students lunch at the St. Mary’s Catholic School, serves on the post prom committee at the Long Prairie High School, is a greeter at the St. Mary’s Catholic Church and is also a member of the Long Prairie Chamber of Commerce.
At this time, Abraham is getting ready for this season’s classes. She welcomes children to try a session at no cost with no obligation to join. Those who are interested may call her at (320) 815-6184.
Abraham said those who already know they want to enroll may register online at www.justforkix/danceclasses, entering zip code 56347, for a complete view of classes in the Long Prairie area.
When not being involved in various community activities, Abraham said she enjoys spending time with Jay and their children, Jenna, Nicholas, Gabriel and Halle. She also likes visiting her parents’ cabin, kayaking and reading books.
Abraham was chosen as “Woman of the Month” for her involvement with Just For Kix and other activities in the community.