*This story was a part of the Impowerage “It’s Never Too Late to Change Careers” Writing Contest. Voting is now closed and you can see the contest winner here.
By E.C. Premo
It’s an edict that Kathleen “Kat” Cooper of Hampton, New Hampshire takes completely to heart.
Deeply committed to her Christian faith, the 55-year-old mother of two is also a committed dancer. She stays in step not only with a personal relationship with God, but also with her love of dance.
Life has taken her on an inspiring journey that now finds her encouraging and teaching others the pure joy of dancing and the many health benefits that can be reaped.
A veteran of jazz, ballet, tap and many other styles, Kat started dancing when she was three. Throughout her formative years, there were several occasions when she left, then returned, to the dance studio.
“I had to stop due to asthma problems,” Kat explains. “I started again when I was 10 and took tap, ballet, and acrobatics for three years. I picked it up again when I was 14, taking jazz and modern for one year.”
At age 19, she made a commitment to learn as much as she could, studying at the Joy of Movement Center in Cambridge and Boston’s Jeannette Neill Dance Studio. She became the assistant director at Joy of Movement. By the time she was 23, she and five fellow dancers auditioned for, and appeared in, a music video for the J. Geils Band.
Eventually, Kat stepped into some other life-changing roles – mother, wife, and college student. She earned a degree in early childhood development, moved to Louisiana and taught aerobics. She eventually relocated to New Hampshire with her children.
“My dancing took a back seat to parenting but I kept my hand in there by teaching kids dance classes after school and doing school plays,” she says.
As time went by, Kat encountered some work-related difficulties that caused her to take a look at the direction her finances – and her life – were headed.
“I was working as a one-on-one special education aide for about nine years, when budget cuts eliminated my job,” she says. “I kept going by substitute teaching and teaching art classes in the afterschool program. The next year, they cut the funding for that. After unemployment stopped and subbing wasn’t enough to get by on, I started to consider my options.”
With time on her hands, Kat found herself “getting inspired by stories of other women who found themselves in the same situation as myself, not being able to find a job that fit our talents and experiences.”
Kat says going back to school was out of the question financially, as she was still paying back her school loans. She saw some light at the end of the tunnel, though, when she participated in a women’s church group study that focused on Mike Mason’s “Champagne for the Soul.”
“I was encouraged to start thinking outside the box: Maybe I could still dance, maybe my body could still move well enough to teach, maybe I could go back to my first love,” says Kat. “My sisters in the study group prayed with me and encouraged me.”
At the time, Kat was attending a gym that offered Zumba classes, and decided to try it. It was the first of many giant steps she was about to take toward revitalizing her love of dance and the joy of movement.
“I was so excited – this was exactly what my body already knew and loved!” she says. “Now, could I make it through a whole class? Yes, I did. I kept coming back and getting stronger.”
Kat wanted to know more. A visit to the Zumba website provided all the information and inspiration she needed for starting a whole new chapter in her life: Becoming a Zumba instructor.
Taking a huge step in faith and backed by lots of prayer, Kat took the training, earned her certification, did her own advertising, rented space to teach classes and was off and running.
She now instructs groups from children to adults, teaching more than a dozen classes a week at various facilities up and down the New Hampshire Seacoast, including the YMCA.
Kat has a new appreciation for dance and hopes to one day run her own studio.
“I come back to this profession with a much different attitude than I had as a younger woman. I appreciate my body and what it can, and sometimes can’t, do and am truly grateful that I can still use it to make a living,” she says. “I think the key is believing in yourself and having a strong base of support, friends and family, that lift you up when things get difficult. I am grateful to God for guiding me and blessing my efforts to improve the health and wellbeing of others.”