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The City Journals

Turning the “C” in Cancer to “D”

Apr 09, 2018 10:59AM ● By Holly Vasic

Kim Luke teaching one of her ballet classes (Courtesy of Stephanie Jaggi)

Kim Luke is more than just a dance teacher and director of Artistic Endeavors. With her scholarship program for children affected by the turmoil of cancer, she inspires kids to just keep dancing. Whether a child’s mother, father, sister, brother or self is struggling with the disease, Luke opens up an opportunity for kids to enjoy an extracurricular activity that their family may not be able to afford with medical bills and the other stresses and strains of having a loved one sick. Turning the “C” in Cancer to “D” is the name of Luke’s service project that is making all of this possible. 

About six years ago, Stephanie Jaggi discovered Luke when she signed her daughter, Bella, up for ballet class. “We knew Kim was a gem from the moment we met her; especially as I witnessed her command a room of toddlers with such grace,” Jaggi said. She heard about Luke’s program and knew that one of Bella’s new dance friends, Ava, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma and received a scholarship from the service project. “We admired Kim for her generosity, never imagining that it could affect us so directly,” Jaggi said. 

The summer of 2015 brought struggle for the Jaggi family when Bella’s dad was diagnosed with a rare cancer, epithelial angiosarcoma, and was already considered stage 4 meaning the cancer has spread to other organs. Jaggi and her husband were overwhelmed with the idea of navigating these unfamiliar tumultuous waters and they both worried about their two children. “We struggled to find our place in all of this,” Jaggi said. 

 “So much of the finances are drained,” Luke said, which is one of the reasons she offers this scholarship to families, and that is exactly what she did for Jaggi and her daughter. Luke also realized parents don’t want to sign their kid, or kids, up because they can’t commit to being there each week and justify paying for it. Luke was able to take that burden away. “When you’re there, you’re there. When you’re not, you’re not. You show up when your family is in a good place,” Luke said. Being offered this scholarship was a huge blessing for the Jaggis and their little girl. Not only could Bella dance, but she would have somewhere to escape, some consistency. “Anyone who has been touched by cancer, including Kim, know how it can seep into almost every aspect of life, and how any semblance of normal is cherished,” Jaggi said. Luke lost her own father from colon cancer and says this program is a memorial to him. 

Luke also has a unique business model, different from other dance teachers in town. When she moved to the Salt Lake City area 14 years ago after her husband won associate trumpet with the Utah Symphony, she began to notice all the facilities around town. “I noticed they had these beautiful dance rooms that weren’t being used,” Luke said, in rec centers like the Sports Complex and Holladay Lions Recreation Center — the space was there, and usually empty. Instead of spending finances on opening her own studio, she began teaching classes in those places, which she still does today. She even teamed up with Performing Dance Center and teaches children there as well. With this model she doesn’t bother with recitals or expensive costumes; instead, Luke invites parents into the classroom a few times a year for a personal performance. “I teach up to the age of 12, but at that level I let them go and I advise their parents what school around the valley I think their child would be most successful in,” Luke said. Not because her training isn’t high caliber, but because at that point children can join studios with companies or focus on what they are interested in most, such as ballet or contemporary. 

Luke’s project has changed lives for many children and families. Her love for dance and her community has tangled together to benefit the Utah dance world. The idea emerged when Luke was teaching a session of classes and each week a mom would show up with another little girl who would sit and watch. Finally, Luke asked the mom why the girl wasn’t dancing too. The mom was a part of a care-giving program where she would watch the girl while her family was with her brother receiving cancer treatment. “I looked at her and I said, ‘Well, this little girl doesn’t sit and watch anymore. While her brother is across the street getting cancer treatments, we’ll just bring her into the class and dance.’ And that was my first scholarship program,” Luke said. 

Luke is an inspiration to the families she has touched and her service project has extended to more than just the price of dance. “It has even allowed our family to connect with other families who are in similar situations; people who understand on a level others cannot,” Jaggi said. She is grateful for Luke and Artistic Endeavors, like many other families.