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Ballet is a family affair in Oak Harbor
Kumi Kosbar never thought such a thing was possible in her lifetime.
The idea of slipping on tights, a tutu and funny little shoes while dancing as a ballerina was the furthest thing from her mind.
“The image of ballet never existed in my brain,” said Kosbar, who grew up a competitive gymnast.
Kosbar learned, however, that the power of a 5-year-old daughter should never be underestimated.
When she put her daughter Chelsey in ballet class nine years ago while their family was stationed at Naval Air Facility Atsugi in Japan, Chelsey noticed that other moms were taking dance classes, too.
Curiosity turned into prodding then eventually an ultimatum: Chelsey would go to ballet class only if mom went, too.
“She said, ‘I don’t want to go by myself. Can you come with me?’” Kumi said.
Nine years later, mother and daughter are still sidekicks in ballet class.
The Kosbars have been advancing their skills together under the direction of Diane Geragotelis at her Oak Harbor dance studio, The Ballet Slipper.
They both are part of the cast that will be performing in The Nutcracker Dec. 21-22 at Oak Harbor High School. A long-standing tradition, it is the first time the Nutcracker is being performed by The Ballet Slipper Conservatory since it became a non-profit 501(c)3 organization.
Kumi, 41, has settled into her role as a dancer, and doesn’t tire of having her daughter as a constant companion.
They each take anywhere from nine to 12 ballet classes a week at The Ballet Slipper.
Since Chelsey is only 14, mom drives them to class and to rehearsals.
“I didn’t plan on anything like this,” Kumi said. “Doing something with your daughter this long, it’s amazing.”
It’s also can be a little humbling.
The mother of two teens is training with teens, though the range of dancers at the studio is from 6 to over 50.
“In my brain, I’m the same as them,” Kumi said. “Once I start moving, I am not 14.”
Still, Kumi is a hard worker who takes great pride in copying her steps over and over again to get them right, according to Geragotelis.
Shades from the precision and determination she possessed during her years of gymnastics while growing up in Sendai, Japan.
“Kumi is a powerhouse in a tiny little body,” Geragotelis said. “She works so hard to achieve what she has. She is a teacher’s dream as far as students are concerned. She always gives 100 percent.”
Geragotelis is amazed by what she sees in Chelsey, a freshman at Oak Harbor High School.
“She has everything going for her, from her amazing feet to her terrific extensions, which she performs with ease,” Geragotelis said. “She sees a step once and has it memorized. She doesn’t realize how good she really is.”
Geragotelis, who opened her dance studio in Oak Harbor in 1991, said she has other mothers and daughters as students, but none quite like the Kosbars, who’ve taken classes from her since 2009.
“Kumi and Chelsey have a very unique relationship,” she said. “Kumi would prefer it if people thought that she was Chelsey’s sister rather than her mother. They give each other space in class since each of them pick up steps so differently.”
Chelsey’s smile widens as she talks about her relationship with her mom and their constant companionship. It’s a different bond than the ones she shares with her dad Sammy Kosbar, who retired from the Navy, and her older brother Jeron, a competitive swimmer.
“I don’t think of her as my mom here,” Chelsey said. “I think of her as another student.
“We still talk.”
But, she added, it’s not like the giggly relationship she has with her friends.
“I’m not your friend?” Kumi asked, feigning sadness.
“You are,” Chelsey said.