Michele Hamlett-Weith’s life has never been one of mere existence. Rather, she lives life to its fullest, no brakes applied, with gutsy passion. Barely 3, she demonstrated an unquenchable thirst for movement and theatrics and began taking dance lessons. At 12 she was enrolled in the Conservatory of Music at UMKC, a serious ballet student. As a willowy teen, she immersed herself in summer intensives at the Paris Opera Ballet. Hamlett-Weith has continuously raised the bar on her extraordinary life, zipping along a trail blazing with rich possibilities, walking through doors when they opened and creating opportunity for others to pursue. Even after she received a breast cancer diagnosis 12 years ago, the ballerina-teacher-mother didn’t lose her spirit. Ten years ago, following a breathless career that zigged and zagged through the art world, the corporate world, children’s television programming and dance—always dance, whether it was teaching, performing or encouraging—Hamlett-Weith founded the Legacy School of the Arts with colleagues Maura Landers and Diane Neighbor, and today serves as co-artistic director. A vibrant performing arts school in Johnson County, Legacy enriches and educates thousands while promoting appreciation and awareness of the arts. Legacy is comprised of three performing groups: Senior Dance Company, Junior Dance Company and Ballet Legacy, which focuses on classical, or en pointe, and contemporary ballet and offers young dancers performance opportunities with Senior Company. As artistic director of Ballet Legacy, Hamlett-Weith transfers her passion for dance and self-expression to students who mimic her youthful endeavors. She co-founded the Legacy Foundation for the Arts in 2003, a not-for-profit organization that offers education and scholarships to support the training of young artists. As the curtain goes up on a beloved Johnson County holiday tradition, “The Nutcracker Tea Party,” featuring Hamlett-Weith’s troupe of dedicated dancers, she reflects on the eyebrows that were raised a decade ago when, recovering from breast cancer surgery, she announced plans for a new school.
“People thought I was crazy,” says Hamlett-Weith, “and frankly, I wondered if I was. I thought I would be retiring or at least slowing down.”
But the elegant Hamlett-Weith remains a vessel to be filled, like an exquisitely cut crystal vase spilling freshly bloomed flowers.
“My life represents what I love,” she says, admitting a transparent truth about herself, and the constant pirouettes that are an inherent part of that life.
HARD WORK: “Coaches send athletes to Legacy to improve flexibility and reflex. While at the Kansas City Ballet I worked with benched Chiefs players’ hamstring pulls. Ballet isn’t running through the daisies. It’s an athletic challenge.”
RAISING THE BARRE: “I love working with young men and women in dance and the arts. It’s gratifying to help them understand what a team-oriented mindset accomplishes.”
SELF PORTRAIT: “Hopefully we have goals when setting out in life. For me, the most unexpected things happened, and I took routes I hadn’t planned on. That’s glorious.”
For more information on Legacy School of the Arts, visit www.legacysa.com; for information on the Legacy Foundation for the Arts, visit www.legacy-arts.org.