Afternoons at the Cangelosi Dance Project on Perkins Road hum with excitement. Young dancers in leotards with neat ponytails mill about, preparing to head into the studio for instruction. Dancing classes are a rite of passage for girls everywhere, but few in each crowd have dreams of making it big.
Kris Cangelosi was once one of those students.
Now years later, as a recognized choreographer and experienced professional dancer with national and international chops, she welcomes the chance to tell young people that it is indeed possible to have a career in the arts.
“So many students will come to me and say that they want to do this for a living but are worried about making it work and I tell them, You can absolutely do it; you just have to work hard and not give up,'” Cangelosi says.
A Baton Rouge native, Cangelosi opened the Cangelosi Dance Project on Perkins Road eight years ago. The nonprofit arts organization has about 300 students, including children, teens and adults, and offers classes in classical ballet, tap and jazz. Cangelosi and her team teach seven days a week, 11 months out of the year.
Cangelosi knew early on that she wanted to be a dancer and shared this with her instuctors at Powell-Mose Studio. They saw it in her, too, and took her on trips to New York City to see dance at its finest. Cangelosi later earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in dance from LSU and began a journey working in numerous capacities in the world of dance, including as a perfomer, choreographer, competition judge and instructor. She started by teaching dance in the region but says it wasn’t enough.
“I needed to get out and see how things were being done in other places,” she says.
She moved to Atlanta, taught at a large dance academy and was later hired to instruct classes at the Atlanta Ballet. Meanwhile, she kept choreographing and performing, and eventually built an extensive list of critically acclaimed self-produced shows. Her work in modern dance often featured themes of gender, faith and society. She kept an exhausting schedule, judging dance competitions nationwide and choreographing shows for dance festivals in the Southeast. Shortly after landing a position on the faculty of the University of South Carolina, she was diagnosed with cancer.
“It made me slow down and say, OK, what are you going to do? You need to start thinking differently,'” Cangelosi recalls.
The experience ultimately led to her return home to open her studio, diving into community work and serving as the monthly performing arts expert for the independent Around Town television show. She is also the dance instructor at St. Joseph’s Academy.
Earlier this year, Cangelosi won the 2014 Arts Leadership Award, one of the annual Louisiana Culture Awards given by the Office of the Lieutenant Governor to individuals and entities that have made outstanding contributions to Louisiana culture. Cangelosi routinely conducts free dance clinics through the East Baton Rouge Parish Library system; sits on several community boards, including Prevent Child Abuse Louisiana; and donates numerous annual performances to the Baton Rouge Gallery, the BREC Baton Rouge Zoo, retirement homes and other sites.
Says Cangelosi: “Giving back is something I believe in and something I really enjoy.”