Longtime dance faculty member Dolly Kelepecz-Momot has performed around the world and right here in Las Vegas, mentoring hundreds of young dancers along the way through her role at UNLV. This past August, she traveled to Kenya to support dance alumna Cooper Rust, '13 BFA Dance and BA History, who founded the non-profit foundation Artists for Africa dedicated to supporting programs offering arts education to children in Nairobi's Kuwinda slums. Kelepecz-Momot returns in March to teach again.
Tell us about your travels to Africa and why they are important to you.
I feel I have an opportunity to make a difference and supporting an alumna from the dance department who is doing such amazing things for children that otherwise would never know the beauty of dance art.
I believe the most inspiring part of Artists for Africa is the students who are brought into the program are not all going to be dancers. It is an opportunity for them to get a better education and get out of the slums. Although dance is the medium used to inspire, they can choose whatever it is they want to do with their lives. Each day they must take dance classes. Of course, I love the safari opportunity, the positivity of the people, and their love for their country.
Your career before coming to UNLV
I was a professional ballet dancer for the Los Angeles Ballet, Houston Ballet, and Nevada Dance Theatre. I was also the principal entertainment at the Lido De Paris at the Stardust Hotel and Casino.
Is this what you thought you’d do when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a ballet dancer — or a dancer period! I have done nothing but dance since I was 5 years old, so I'd say I am what I wanted to be. I never thought this is where I would end up, but Las Vegas has been good to me. I have taught here at UNLV and rehearsed with Nevada Dance Theatre in the studio where I am teaching now for over 30 years. I feel as if UNLV is my home away from home. I have been part of the development of the dance arts in this community. I am proud of that and think that the arts have made Vegas not only a travel destination but a mature large city with a well-rounded community to raise a family. Arts create balance.
Who inspired you to get into your field?
Shirley Temple. I was 5, and she was a big star. I had all her records and sang and danced every song from her movies to wake my father on Sunday. I just thought she was amazing and, in fact, she was — the biggest star of MGM, the biggest box office draw, the most talented and inspiring to this young girl of the 50s.
What is the worst feedback you’ve ever received?
You're too tall to dance. You're too big.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Find someone who will give you positive reinforcement. Everything is possible. (Dancer and choreographer) Jaques D'Ambois told me, "Do not listen to anyone that does not love you." Everybody has opinions and is not always looking out for your best interests. Believe in yourself!
Who did you look up to in your field when you first started?
I have had many inspirational people in my life. In the beginning, Cynthia Gregory was my biggest inspiration. I was very tall for my age — and for ballet — so it was difficult to find someone like me that achieved her goal. Cynthia Gregory was a tall woman and a beautiful dancer. As I got older and I came to Las Vegas, I found that everybody in Vegas during that time (1975) was tall! I had found a perfect fit for my skill and body type.
What do laypeople usually ask you about your field?
Most people do not understand the value of dance art. Most have a strong misconception that dance is easy and you just throw something together and do a little ditty at the drop of a hat. They do not understand the discipline, hard work, and dedication that is takes to be successful.
What film makes you cringe over how your field is represented?
Most of them. Black Swan and Showgirls are the two most off the mark.
Tell us about a time in your life you were daring.
I worked in Circus Knie, the Swiss National Circus. I had an act with an Indian elephant and another act with a Lipizzaner horse.
What’s the biggest misconception you encounter about UNLV?
I do not think that there is a misconception about UNLV, the institution. I believe it is Las Vegas that people do not get. It is hard for people to understand that we are a growing community of over 2 million that go to church, grocery shop, play little league — and we have our own ballet company!
Best tip or advice for someone new to UNLV?
Keep an open mind and find a faculty mentor to help guide you through this beautiful experience called UNLV.
Tell us about an object in your office and what it represents to you.
Before I was full-time, I won the Outstanding Part-Time Teacher Award, but most of the cherished things in my office are from my students, expressing gratitude for my mentorship. This is what it means to be a teacher.
Got a joke you tell to break the ice?
Well, my given name is Dolly, mostly it is people that joke with me. First they say, "Well, hello, Dolly", and I say, "Well that is definitely the first time I have heard that today!"
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Pizza! I dance for a living. What could be better than that?