By Matt Smith
“Since my first class, I have loved dance, and I want to share that with everyone.”
While she presumably meant those words to be a wish for the future, by the looks of it, Kathleen Fitzgerald, speaker of the above, seems to already have the “sharing” covered. So much so that the Mount Kisco resident was named Gala Honoree during the Steffi Nossen School of Dance’s 79th Annual Benefit Week, held earlier this year, from March 31-April 2.
As is tradition, the yearly Gala serves to benefit the Steffi Nossen Dance Foundation, a not-for-profit dance advocacy and community outreach organization within the school, while at the same time honoring one of their own for his or her Outstanding Contributions to SNDF. As a special treat unique to Fitzgerald, this year’s event included a performance of a new work, danced by nine graduating seniors of SNDC and choreographed by Steffi Nossen Dance Foundation Artistic Director–and Annual Benefit producer–Jessica DiMauro, which served as a tribute to Fitzgerald’s life and career. “I’m flabbergasted,” she says of receiving the honor. “I’ve worked behind-the-scenes for so long now that I was just not expecting it. I’m uncharacteristically speechless.”
While she may not have been expecting it, the honor is certainly deserved–dancing’s clearly in her blood.
Fitzgerald began dance training at age eight, as a way to augment the “complete lack of coordination” that resulted from poor vision. Nonetheless, regardless of the reason, it was clear she was hooked from that very first day. “I got in the car after [the class] and said, ‘Mommy, I’m gonna be a dancer,’” she recalls. “That was really all I ever wanted to be.”
Her first foray into the professional dance world came at age fifteen, when she auditioned for “new state-supported performing arts school” North Carolina School of the Arts… as #13, no less, which Nossen herself always considered a–a telling sign of what was soon to come.
Subsequent to graduation, and prior to joining the Steffi Nossen family, Fitzgerald was a principal dancer and Company Ballet Mistress with Ballet Frankfurt, where she worked under choreographer William Forsythe. Preceding that, she was a soloist with Netherlands Dance Theater I, before Jiří Kylián took her on as Assistant Director of Netherlands Dance Theater II. “I can’t say enough about how great it was,” she says of those experiences. “We toured all over the world. We toured with live orchestra, with live singers and choirs and incredible lighting designers and costume makers…It was everything you could possibly want to experience.”
After following Ballet Frankfurt with work for Johann Kresnik’s radical dance theater group, Bremer Tanztheater, Fitzgerald moved to Mt. Kisco–for the sake of her daughter, Jessica Rose, who has special needs and requires intensive therapies. Thanks to some guidance from an local librarian, she found herself an all-too-perfect position at Steffi Nossen School of Dance, and she’s been with them for 16 years. Fitzgerald began first as a core curriculum teacher in 2000, then as School Director, a position which she held from 2004-2015. Today, she continues to lead the Ballet Program at SNSD, and serves as Production Manager for the Copland House concerts at Merestead. She has also been extensively involved with the outreach programs, one being the 13-year-old Wheels and Heels intensive dance program for disabled performers, one of the programs this very benefit helps to fund.
In accepting her honor, she acknowledges the work of the “fantastic” students at SNSD and takes note of “the incredible camaraderie of the Steffi Nossen faculty.” (“You don’t find that everywhere,” she adds, with a smile). “I feel that I’ve found a home at Steffi Nossen, an organization that stresses the importance of family, community, and mentoring. And I feel very lucky to have had this incredible performing career, and to have [done] such meaningful work within the arts.”
Steffi Nossen School of Dance is located at 216 Central Avenue in White Plains. Fitzgerald notes the company has several satellite locations throughout Westchester, including one in Chappaqua at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin. For more information, visit steffinossen.org.
Matt Smith is a writer and regular contributor to the Inside Press. For more information, please visit www.mattsmiththeatre.com.