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Parks and Recreation


Centennial Youth Ballet in performance

The Dance Division of the Metropolitan Board of Parks and Recreation offers classes in ballet, pointe, creative rhythms and tap. Offered at minimal cost to participants, classes are taught for children, adults, and senior citizens. Ballet, which is the foundation for the program, is taught by two fulltime teachers. Instruction is supplemented by two freelance teachers and a teaching supervisor. Approximately 400 children and adults participate in dance classes each semester.

Although dance is offered in a recreational setting, the teachers strive to offer the highest quality training possible to participants. It is important that the children who leave the program after high school develop strong technique so that they can perform or study dance at the college level, if that is their desire. For adult students and children who do not opt for a career in dance, the staff wants to generate support for the art form by instilling an appreciation for and understanding of both the artistic and technical aspects of ballet.

Centennial Youth Ballet is the Dance Division’s primary performance group. Comprised of intermediate and advanced dancers ages 12-18, the young dancers offer public performances twice each year. The Mini-Nutcracker, a narrated, abbreviated version of the popular holiday ballet, is designed to introduce young children to ballet as a performance art. Spring Concert gives members of Centennial Youth Ballet an opportunity to learn and perform classical ballet variations as well as contemporary choreography.

Friends of Metro Dance is the non-profit organization established in 1995 to support the dance division beyond the scope of government funding. This group funds performances by Centennial Youth Ballet and Music City Ballroom Kids. It also sponsors special dance-related activities which include a summer dance intensive for teens, a summer ballroom program for underserved children (Music City Ballroom Kids), continuing education for faculty, student scholarship, and master classes open to parks’ dance students as well as to the general public. Additionally, Friends of Metro Dance equips and maintains three state of the art dance studios. This organization has been critical to sustaining affordable dance education within the public sector.



Shirley Blackburn holds degrees in dance (Stephens College, Columbia, MO) and English (University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN). As director of dance for the Metropolitan Board of Parks and Recreation, she oversees a multi-faceted program that includes classes in ballet, creative rhythms, Flamenco, dance for musical theater, and tap as well as three performance groups: Centennial Youth Ballet, Music City Ballroom Kids, and Metro Parks’ Swinging Seniors.

She reviewed dance for The Tennessean for 21 years and has contributed articles to professional dance publications including Pointe Magazine. She served on the board of the Tennessee Association of Dance for nine years and received that organization’s Margaret Martin Award for furthering the public image and accessibility of dance in Tennessee.

She has studied ballet with Petrus Bosman, Bryan Koulman, John White, Robert Barnett, Manny Rowe, André Eglevsky, and Andrei Ustinov. Modern teachers include Harriette Ann Gray, David Wood, Ernest Morgan, Mary Anthony, Donna Rizzo, Yuriko Kikuchi, and Tom Pazik. She attended summer courses at American Dance Festival and Birmingham Southern College. She has completed teachers’ training courses at Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet School (certificate) and Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet (certificate). She has been certified in the Vaganova method of teaching ballet (Grades 1-3) by John White of the Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet. She currently teaches beginning level ballet for Metro Parks and Belmont University.


2009 Tennessee Association of Dance’s Outstanding Dance Educator, Kathleen Callaghan received her early dance training in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. She majored in ballet at Butler University, where she was a principal dancer with the University Ballet Company. Her career as a professional dancer included Pennsylvania Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Dayton Ballet, and the Oakland Ballet. She danced the lead role in Giselle with the Tennessee Dance Theatre in 1981.

She currently teaches intermediate and advanced ballet with the Dance Division of the Metropolitan Board of Parks and Recreation in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is artistic director of the Centennial Youth Ballet. The members of the youth ballet perform twice a year: The Mini-Nutcracker at Christmas and a spring performance. The spring performance gives the students a chance to perform excerpts from classical ballets, including Coppelia, Paquita, and Sleeping Beauty.

A popular master teacher in middle Tennessee, she is a member of the board of the Tennessee Association of Dance. Her duties on the board include chairing the scholarship committee.

Her summer study is extensive. She spent four summers studying the Vaganova syllabus with John White (1988-1991). She has taken teachers’ courses at Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet (2001, 2002), Canada’s National Ballet School (2003) and Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet (2004). Additionally, she has studied with Dmitri Roudnev, Stanislav Issaev, Andre Ustinov, Bryan Koulman, Finis Jhung and Ruth Petrinovic


A graduate of Birmingham Southern College (B.A., Dance), Barry Gager began his career as a professional dancer with Alabama Ballet. He joined Nashville Ballet in 1987 as a principal dancer where he performed in Nutcracker (Cavalier, Snow King), Swan Lake (Siegfried, Von Rothbart), The Moor’s Pavane (Moor), and George Balanchine’s Donizetti Variations and Square Dance, among others. He has danced as a guest artist with Huntsville Ballet, Louisville Ballet, Carlisle Project, and Ballet Hawaii.

He received his early ballet training at University of Alabama Ballet, Dupree Dance Academy, and Southwest Ballet Center. He has completed teachers’ courses at Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet School (certificate), Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto, and New York’s American Ballet Theatre (certified in primary level through Level 7 and partnering). He has been certified by John White of Pennsylvania Academy of Ballet in the Vaganova Syllabus (Grades I-VI).

He has taught at School of Nashville Ballet, Andalusia Ballet Association, Nashville School of the Arts, and the Tennessee Governor’s School for the Arts. He currently teaches intermediate and advanced ballet with the Dance Division of the Metropolitan Board of Parks and Recreation and partnering at Belmont University.