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It's Never Too Late...

To start dancing! Kirkland Lifestyle connects with Debbie Walford of Kirkland Dance Center

Article by Bree O'Brien

Photography by Courtesy of Kirkland Dance Center

Originally published in Kirkland Lifestyle

What’s the KDC’s origin story? 

In 2000, after several years of working long hours in accounting, I was on maternity leave with my second daughter, and started to second guess my career choice. I asked myself “What are you passionate about?” At that time, it was soccer, dance, and kids. Because I already continued to play soccer with many of my college teammates, I decided to pursue my other passion and open a dance studio. In November 2002, Kirkland Dance Center opened and after a few bumpy years in the beginning and of course during COVID, KDC has filled me with a tremendous amount of joy. My goal was to establish a place where everyone felt comfortable and free to express themselves without any judgment. KDC has been that and so much more.

What makes the Dance Center special? 

There are few community resources left in the area for this type of use, especially as we understand the need to support other non-profit uses. Adult drop-in classes draw dancers from multiple Eastside and farther out cities.  One of the most inspiring things about KDC is the welcoming and supportive atmosphere; people cheer you on which is rare to see in more competitive environments. KDC’s mantra, “It’s never too late to start dancing” is apparent in the classes and embodied by the teaching staff.  Dance supports mental and physical health and is such an important opportunity for the art of expression and movement.  

KDC’s positive impact on the community was never more evident than during COVID when we relied on fundraisers to pay our rent. We produced a virtual show which included clips from teachers and students sharing what KDC means to them. Most could not get through without getting teary. KDC is a second home to many, and this home has all the comforts of respect, acceptance, and belonging. 

In addition, various ethnic dance community groups that are vital to the fabric of the Eastside and Kirkland communities use our space to connect, rehearse and perform.  This includes Indian classical dance, Romanian folk, Japanese martial arts, Irish dancing, Spanish flamenco etc.

What would you say to someone who has never tried dance before but is interested to begin? 

Of course, the first thing I would say is “It’s never too late to start dancing!” 

My suggestion is to be brave and give it a try. Because all of the classes are drop-in, you can start any time and come as often or as little as you like. Start off with a beginning ballet, jazz or hip-hop class.  The teachers and students are so encouraging and non-judgmental. We will also be having a “Dance Jam” in February which is a way to try a bunch of different genres in a 4-hour period of time to see what classes and/or teaching style you like. 

What do you like about being part of the Kirkland community? 

Although it is growing quickly, Kirkland still maintains a hometown, small city feel that values its legacy and community assets.  We feel like we are one of those assets, especially given our 20 years here.  Our student classes are well supported as parents love to be able to have their children dance at a studio right in their “backyard.”

As part of our focus on the community, we have had several outreach programs including producing shows benefiting other nonprofits, and providing scholarship programs targeting low-income or at-risk children.

“As a dancer before I had kids, it was humbling and not easy to walk back into a studio 20+ years later; and it was such an approachable, accepting, and inspiring group of people.”

“Now I both teach and take classes and I continue to be impressed with how welcoming this studio is and how many people have benefitted from it in the community.”

Jennifer Leavitt

A Seattle native, KDC Director Debbie Walford began tap-dancing at five and playing soccer at seven. She continued tap through high school and soccer through college at Western Washington University where she was first team All-American and inducted into the Hall of Fame. Walford started as a CPA, raised two daughters in Kirkland and still plays soccer. She’s also CFO of a software development company. 

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