Carson dance teacher Gina Kaskie-Davis celebrates 25 years
Her credits include dancing in Paris at the Moulin Rouge as well as performing with the cast of the former MGM Grand’s show, “Hello Hollywood, Hello,” but nothing compares to seeing a struggling student succeed.
“I have 175 students right now, so I’ve taught thousands over the years. With some, you just go, ‘Wow, they’re so gifted, I’m blessed to teach them,'” said 52-year-old Gina Kaskie-Davis of the Western Nevada Performing Arts Company in Carson City.
“But then you have the one child who just can’t get it, and suddenly, the light goes on, and they do. That’s the most rewarding moment for me – not the most gifted ones, but the ones who struggle the most. That’s when you feel you’re there for a reason,” Kaskie-Davis said.
“With your best dancers, you see them achieve and it’s that punch-the-air feeling, but when it’s the weaker ones who do well, you just go, ‘Wow!'” she added.
Kaskie-Davis, who celebrated 25 years of teaching jazz, ballet, tap, contemporary, lyrical and musical theater in Carson City, was honored earlier this month by her students with a surprise party at the Carson Plaza Conference Center.
“I wasn’t wearing any makeup, I’d been dancing all day, and there was all this screaming. I just remember thinking that it wasn’t my birthday or my anniversary,” she said, laughing.
Shani Nichols, parent of one of Kaskie’s students, said Kaskie is well-deserving of the accolades.
“Not only does she teach dance, but she instills great things in the children of the community,” Nichols said. “WNPA is not just a dance studio, it’s a home away from home. Everyone is like family.”
THE EARLY YEARS
Kaskie-Davis grew up in Morecambe, England, and started dancing when she was 8-years-old. By 14, she started teaching with her instructor. She worked seven weeks with Summer Stock and when she was 16, she tore a muscle in her calf doing the can-can, so she had to work in a bank for six months.
She said she always knew she would be a dancer.
“I told my career counselor at school that I was going to be a professional dancer and open my own studio. She asked about me about my backup plan, and guided me to take shorthand and typing, so it came in handy when I had to work at the bank,” she said.
“When I was 18, I moved to Paris,” she said. “I was 5-foot-10, and all my little 5-foot-2 friends said I should be a professional dancer so I auditioned for the Moulin Rouge where I did the can-can two times a night, seven days a week. I danced there for a year,” she said.
“While I was there, I heard about a big production at the (former) MGM Grand in Reno, ‘Hello Hollywood, Hello.’ They wanted dancers from all over the world, and it was supposed to be in the Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest stage and lots of people,” she said.
“Thousands auditioned, and they hired 150 performers. It was fabulous. I was just 19 years old, and I was there for the duration of the show,” she said.
Kaskie-Davis was married and gave birth to three of her five children while she was on the MGM payroll. She said she worked up until about 5 1/2 months with each pregnancy before taking maternity leave.
REALIZING THE DREAM
But a solid career wasn’t enough for Kaskie. In her spare time, she taught for a friend who had a studio in Reno, and six months before the show closed, she also started teaching a few classes in Carson.
“I decided to make it full time, and opened a studio, Gina Kaskie Dancers,” she said.
In 1998, she also started teaching musical theater at the high school for five years, and she choreographs all the Western Nevada Musical Theater Company’s productions.
“The only thing I don’t do is hip hop. I watch it on TV, and I say, ‘I can do that,’ but then I stand up and try, and it doesn’t work. I dance too white,” she said, laughing.
“The kids nowadays do everything better – they swim faster, jump higher. (Fox Broadcasting’s) ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ – that’s where dance is now,” Kaskie said.
One of the things Kaskie-Davis is most proud of is her group of competitors, but it wasn’t always as easy as it looked.
“When I watched the competition the first time, I knew there was no way my dancers could have competed in that. Within four to five years, I brought them up to that level and we won high point. We now have a mandatory six hours a week for competitors including ballet, jazz and conditioning,” she said. “We have the strongest competitors ever this year, with about 60 children.”
Not every child will go on to become a competitor, but watching each one achieve a level of competency and enjoyment is always the goal.
“The 7-11-year-olds are my favorites,” she said. “They’re so eager, they want it so much and try so hard. They’re like sponges. You watch them grow by leaps and bounds, and you see that joy in them when they dance.”
THE REAL REWARDS
Kaskie-Davis said it’s also rewarding watching her own children dance.
“They all dance. My three girls have always danced, but the boys wouldn’t dance when they were younger. They thought if you danced, you turned gay. When they were 19 and 17, they realized they weren’t gay, and combined with the fact that all the girls were sort of scantily clad in the studio, they thought it would be OK,” she said.
“Watching my own children dance makes me really proud,” she said. “I’m always so proud of all my students, but when it’s your own children, it’s so much more personal.”
Many of Kaskie-Davis’ students have gone on to careers in dance.
“It’s also rewarding watching my students pass along their skills and what they’ve learned, to share them. A few have gone on to Broadway, one to Radio City Music Hall, one gentleman was in ‘Wicked,’ and another is in ‘Come Fly With Me’ now in Las Vegas, and many do cruises,” she said.
“There is a lot of camaraderie among the teachers in this area. We all love dance and we all love teaching it,” she said.
“I love performing – it’s fabulous. When the curtain goes up and the lights are on and you’re standing there on stage, it’s a great feeling, but it’s different when you share,” she said.