Dance for Two
Kennesaw State graduate chooses ballet over law
KENNESAW, Ga. (May 9, 2019) — Ballet has been a recurring theme in Teresa Eckart’s life, with interruptions over the years to prosecute drug dealers, serve as a traffic court magistrate and raise her son.
Her life, as she explains it, has always been sort of a pas de deux — a “dance for two” — to borrow a ballet term, a delicate balance between her love for dance with her love for the law.
Eckart, who will graduate from Kennesaw State this week with a bachelor’s degree in dance with a concentration in ballet, has seen her life come full circle. At a time when some of her contemporaries are making retirement plans, the energetic 59-year-old is mapping out lesson plans for her ballet students who range from pre-school to high school.
“I have been teaching ballet at Sawnee School of Ballet in Cumming since August of 2016, and I absolutely love it,” she said. “We just had our parents’ week production, and the children have never worked so hard to impress their parents.”
Eckart, who enrolled at KSU in the summer of 2015, completed all of her coursework last semester except for a final Spanish course, which she took online this semester.
“I had a very busy fall semester,” said Eckart, who took History of Dance I and Analysis and Criticism of Dance while teaching almost 12 hours a week and helping with the Sawnee Ballet Theatre’s production of The Nutcracker.
Eckart has always pushed herself hard.
As a youngster in Jacksonville, Fla., she began her dance training at the Southern Ballet Theater under the direction of Marta Jackson, a revered classical ballet instructor. At the same time, Eckart’s mother insisted that she and her siblings learn to play classical piano after school.
“I hated the piano, but I’m so glad I took lessons until I was 18 because I learned to count music, which is so important for a ballet instructor, and I developed my love of classical music which is so related to ballet,” Eckart said.
When Eckart’s family moved to Tampa, she continued her piano lessons. However, it was her ballet classes that struck the right chord with her artistic interest.
Eckart’s superior ballet ability was recognized, and she was accepted into the Tampa Concert Ballet Company while still in high school.
Later, at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Va., Eckart continued her ballet training, studying under ballet legends Sarah Stravinska and Helen McGhee. She also made time to participate in her college dance company and teach ballet at a local studio.
All the while, she was earning top grades in economics and political science.
“When I was in college, back in the early ’80s, I knew I wanted to become a lawyer, but I was also teaching ballet to young girls and I really enjoyed that experience, too,” Eckart said. “So, I faced a difficult decision.”
And that was when ballet took a back seat to the law, at least for a few years.
Following graduation from Stetson University College of Law in 1985, Eckart began prosecuting drug dealers and DUI cases as an assistant state attorney in Pinellas County, Fla. In 1989, she left the prosecutor’s office to care for her young son, Rick.
“Later an opportunity came up, and I became a traffic court magistrate,” she said. “They had just created the magistrate program and our calendars were so crowded. But I liked the schedule because it was night court, which didn’t start until 6 p.m.”
Fast forward to 2001: Eckart and her family had moved to metro Atlanta. In the back of her mind, she began to think of how much she had missed ballet and teaching children.
It was time to get back in shape, so Eckart began her ballet studies under Carol Szkutek, who is on principal faculty at the Atlanta Ballet.
Pushing herself so she could hold her own in KSU ballet classes with students less than half her age, she directed her focus to the intense Russian-ballet style Vaganova technique taught locally by renowned ballerina Marina Levasheva, a ballet and pointe instructor at the Georgia Dance Conservatory.
By 2013, Eckart was ready to implement the next part of her plan to teach ballet. She enrolled at KSU, where Rick was a student, to accomplish her objective.
“Learning Spanish was tough at my age, but I really enjoyed my Dance Pedagogy and Dance Kinesiology classes at KSU,” Eckart said. “It was the audition for the Dance program that intimidated me because here I was auditioning along with 25 to 30 high school kids, and I was the oldest person in the room. But, I’m so glad I did it.”
Now six years later, graduation is her coda, the grand finale of her pas de deux.
– Robert S. Godlewski
Photos by Rob Witzel; Video by David Johnson
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the second-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 126 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.