After Surgery, Rediscovering Dance

January 17, 2014

After two knee surgeries, Bree Kleist searched for a new way to keep moving – and rediscovered her love for dance!

“My knees were killing me. I spent 8 years in the Air Force, 4 of them as a heating specialist, kneeling and squatting in front of furnaces and boilers all day long. I spent 4 more as an alarms specialist, climbing ladders and crawling into ceilings to install cables and pipelines. The Air Force warned me that I would one day need knee replacements. Over the next 20 years, it grew painful to walk. My knees would sometimes give way, and I would fall. I used a walker for two years, until I had my first knee replacement surgery.  Eight months later, I had the other knee done.

Then, with my knees still sore and stiff, but a good idea in mind, I walked into Fred Astaire Dance Studio of Greenfield, Wisconsin, near my home. I wanted to see if I could still dance. As a child, I’d done tap, ballet, and various forms of Hawaiian dancing, later adding belly dance and disco to the mix. In the studio, I met Rick Soppa, instructor and co-owner. I told him about my knees and he said that we could take it slow, and if I had any pain to say so. He explained how dance steps could be modified to prevent injury. The lesson was fun, and I was fine. I signed up with the studio then and there. That was 9 months ago, and I have never looked back.

I feel so much better as a dancer—and so do my knees! I’ve progressed to the Advanced Bronze Level of the Fred Astaire Dance Studios Trophy system: my “majors” are Rumba, Salsa, Tango and Waltz.  I am thrilled to report that my first competition was this August at the Fred Astaire Wisconsin Dance-a-Thon 2014. I learned two open routines in Rumba and Paso Doble for the event, and a new dance, the Foxtrot.  Amazingly, I performed 35 dances during the 3-day Dance-A-Thon! Now, I can’t wait for Oktoberfest! For that competition, I’m learning two open routines in Waltz and Foxtrot and the Cha Cha and Bolero!

I not only regained my knees through my dancing, but I also lost 55 pounds and 3 dress sizes!  Moreover, the doctors are amazed at the strength in my leg muscles and the resulting ease of movement in my joints.  They were hesitant about my dancing in the beginning, fearing for my knees, but now they are convinced I made the right decision. Most important, I am the happiest I have been in a long time. People I meet who haven’t seen me in a while remark on how I’m always smiling now.  My fantastic dance partners at the studio, Rick Soppa and Patrick Daniel, teach me all about the dances. I also have lots of support and guidance from teachers Dajana Stanic and May Lee.  Vanina Soppa, co-owner and teacher, gives me great encouragement, as well as tips on dance dresses, jewelry, and how to put the finishing touches on everything. Every person in the studio is so friendly, encouraging, and wonderful, it’s like I have found the family I never knew I had!”

This story was reprinted from the Winter 2014 issue of inSTEP Magazine, Fred Astaire Dance Studios’ quarterly student publication. To find the Fred Astaire Dance Studio near you, click here. For more info on FADS’ inSTEP Magazine, look for the current issue at your local FADS studio, or visit our Facebook page


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