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Student teacher infuses fitness, humor into each class

Rashida Harmon

It is 8:55 a.m. on a Wednesday. The lovely and quirky Kate Burton, a graduate dance student at Mills, is sitting with amazing posture at a table, sipping water, waiting for class to begin. Liz Sexe, another second-year grad student in the dance department, exuberantly bounds into the classroom. “Kate, you’ve liberated me!” she says with her arms in the air, “That thing you showed us in class last night, it changed my life!” This is the kind of enthusiasm that surrounds Kate Burton.

This semester Burton is teaching a very popular Pilates class at Mills. Last semester she co-taught an Intro to Modern Dance class with fellow grad student Stephanie Ballas. Burton is now in her last semester here.

“I like how she tells you what anatomical part you are working,” commented Jessie Thatcher, an art student in her junior year, who finds Burton’s approach easy to follow for a Pilates novice.

Appreciated for her clear and thoughtfully adaptive teaching, she is also known for making her students laugh. “Every time I go to class she makes me laugh,” gushed Alexa Turner, an undergraduate dance major. “I mean the class is great already but I feel I get twice as much of an ab work-out because she makes me laugh the entire class time.”

When teaching breathing exercises, Burton quips that breathing “is a life skill you use every day.” Her jokes about happy scapulas and her collection of “so ugly they’re cute” shoes are the best.

“Movement should be fun,” said Burton, as her face lights up, “and it’s just more fun if you’re smiling and laughing.” She prides herself on creating a class from which everyone can take something away, regardless of their own physical limitations.

For Burton, movement has always been a big part of her life. She grew up dancing, mostly ballet, and was introduced to Pilates at the age of eight after a knee injury as a way to regain strength.

After earning a degree in Environmental Science from Western Washington University, Burton went through an intensive two-year certification program to become a Pilates instructor.

“It required me to learn a lot about anatomical structure, kinesiology, specific movement, and injury rehabilitation,” explained Burton. She uses this knowledge when she teaches and in her daily life.

Burton feels having bodily awareness is crucial. “When you’re in school, you develop all kinds of weird habits,” she saif, like “staying up late and typing.” She urges that while “our bodies are very strong, they also require some attention.”

Pilates helps correct the stress of a busy life. “I think sometimes we don’t take the time to step onto a stair in the proper way, and that can make you roll your ankle, it can make you put weird stress on your knees,” warns Burton. A Pilates workout focuses on strengthening the smaller muscles of the body which helps prevent injury.

Burton hopes to continue teaching at Mills, spreading her love of dance and Pilates. “I feel really strongly about movement,” said Burton, and it shows.