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Archive for Sunday, January 5, 1992

BALLET FAMILY ADJUSTS TO LIFE KANSAS STYLE

January 5, 1992

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"Life is full of adjustments," says Jerel Hilding. "That's what makes it fun."

Hilding, his wife, Krystyna Jurkowski Hilding, their son, Dennis, and Mrs. Hilding's mother, Teresa Jurkowski, know quite a lot about adjustments most recently theirs to Kansas.

The Hildings are dancers, retired from the Joffrey Ballet, and now teaching at Kansas University. He has been an assistant professor of dance for a year and a half; she became an instructor of dance last fall.

They came here in 1990 to build a quieter life around family and academia after many hectic years in the New York City ballet world.

Dennis is now a fourth-grader at Quail Run School with less homework to do than he had back East and two recesses a day to enjoy instead of just one. He's interested in basketball in winter and baseball in summer, and he's plugged into KU's Museum of Natural History programs for young people.

IN SEPTEMBER, Mrs. Jurkowski, a recent widow, moved to Lawrence as well to her own townhome near her daughter's family. Hilding's father lives a mere three-hour drive from them now, in Shenandoah, Iowa, near his boyhood home of Red Oak.

"It's so peaceful," Mrs. Jurkowski said of Lawrence, noting that wailing police sirens routinely punctuated the nights around her previous home in Livingston, N.J.

Looking south from their west Lawrence home across yet-undeveloped land, Hilding said, "We like open territory," and his wife added her first impression of Kansas still holds the sky.

Back East, she said, you had to look straight up to see sky. From her new home, though, she can watch storms headed into town from Osage County and sunsets that spread across an unobstructed western horizon.

Gone are the crowded highways and long commutes they endured for years, they say, and people so rushed, rudeness was routine.

""PEOPLE HERE don't know what traffic is," Mrs. Hilding said.

In Lawrence and at KU, she and her husband noted, they see opportunities to help strengthen the ballet community, using the expertise they gained during their early professional careers.

Hilding is working on curriculum development at KU, and Mrs. Hilding is focusing on classes for local dancers through the Lawrence Arts Center and a new KU Saturday morning program, as well as her university course.

Mrs. Jurkowski recalled that when her daughter, called Krys, was 5, she saw the Danish Ballet on television and fell in love on the spot with dancing.

Mrs. Hilding, now 37, agreed: "Swan Lake was my thing."

A neighbor convinced Mrs. Jurkowski to take the child to a ballet school for instruction, and from that point on, "she (Krys) never wanted anything else."

A WORKING-CLASS family, the Jurkowskis were allowed to pay for lessons as they could because of the girl's natural ability and unusual dedication.

Through childhood, Krys took class at the New Jersey School of Ballet, then in Newark, during the week and in New York City on Saturdays and every day each summer.

Mrs. Jurkowski recalled that because she didn't drive, she and Krys would take the bus into New York City, walking a mile and a half from their home to the bus stop and back no matter what the weather.

"To be a dancer," Mrs. Hilding explained, "you had to be there."

At 13, Krys received a Ford Foundation scholarship for study at the School of American Ballet, which is associated with the New York City Ballet, but continued to commute from New Jersey, where she attended parochial and public schools.

"ONCE GRADUATION day came," Mrs. Jurkowski said, "that was it." The young dancer joined Joffrey II, the apprentice company for New York City's Joffrey Ballet, and a year and a half later, in 1973, she was dancing with the main Joffrey company.

"From 17 (years) to 22 or 23," Mrs. Hilding explained, "are the most important years to develop yourself as a dancer."

As a principal dancer for Robert Joffrey for 10 years, Krys performed featured roles in a number of ballets and on one occasion toured the Soviet Union.

Her husband came to the dance world late, by comparison. Although he had studied piano from age 7, Hilding didn't begin ballet training until he was 19.

He got interested, he recalled, while waiting on a girlfriend who took ballet. To pass the time, he began watching her class and, because "it looked like it was fun," soon enrolled himself.

A HIGH SCHOOL athlete, Hilding found his ``athleticism and musical bent met, so to speak, in dance."

A native of New Orleans, he began serious study at that city's Giacobbe Academy, now home of the Delta Festival Ballet, receiving his bachelor's degree in music history from the New Orleans campus of Louisiana State University, now the University of New Orleans.

In 1973, after three and a half years at Giacobbe, he was asked to join Joffrey II and in '75, he too moved into the primary company, where he met his wife-to-be.

The Hildings started dating in 1976 and were married in 1978. As a couple, they said, they often danced in the same ballets but never with each other.

In the fall of 1981, Mrs. Hilding became pregnant with Dennis, and when the season ended in December, she retired to motherhood and teaching at her alma mater, the New Jersey School of Ballet.

Hilding continued with the New York company for another eight years until half-way through 1989 when he danced his last Joffrey role as "Billy the Kid."

FOR A FAMILY man, he said, the schedule was grueling. Four months of the year, he toured, which meant he was away from home. Five months, he commuted from their home, in Sparta, N.J., to New York for rehearsals daily, and three months, he was off.

After leaving Joffrey and before coming to Lawrence, Hilding, now 42, also taught at Kean College, near Newark, and the New Jersey School of Ballet but that too involved long commutes "and there was always traffic."

Lawrence, and KU, promised the change of pace the couple wanted personally and professionally.

The opportunity for Mrs. Jurkowski, a native of Poland, to join them here came last May, when her husband died from a sudden illness.

The Jurkowskis had immigrated to this country in 1955 from England, when Krys, their only child, was just a year old. Since that time, they had made their home in New Jersey.

WITH NO OTHER relatives nearby, though, Mrs. Jurkowski decided to give Kansas a try.

"She'd never really seen countryside," Hilding said of his mother-in-law.

Now that they're settled in Kansas, Mrs. Jurkowski and the Hildings are planning a trip to Disney World in Orlando, Fla., compliments of the USA Today newspaper. In November, Mrs. Hilding said, she was one of 20 people from across the country picked by the newspaper to win five-day, all-expense paid trips for four to the amusement park.

Hilding noted his wife buys lottery tickets regularly and is an occasional contest entrant, but this marks her first ``major win'' since coming to Kansas.

`It's funny where life takes you," she said. "I never thought I'd end up in Kansas."

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