Kerri (Richardson) Watts
KERRI (RICHARDSON) WATTS, THOMAS JEFFERSON CLASS OF 1992
“LIFE’S A DANCE…FROM ONE STAGE TO THE NEXT” (AUTHOR UNKNOWN)
By nature a creator, self-motivated and harboring a love of dance, Kerri Watts has created a path by simply following her heart.
While she has choreographed hundreds of numbers, how Kerri Watts’ passion for dance turned into a business has been an unscripted journey. Years ago, while attending school, she worked at what is now Kids & Company, the before and after school care program operated by the Community Education Foundation in Council Bluffs Elementary Schools. She started teaching dance to the kids in the program and by the end of the first year, she was instructing 52 students and the dream of opening a dance studio took flight at the age of 18.
She loves to be around people and she gains energy from large groups. Coming from a big family and marrying into an equally large group, there is never a shortage of a source for her energy. She is surrounded by groups almost all the time. If she wasn’t working with large productions of dancers, her path could have easily been to surround herself with animals. She has a special place for dogs and if she could live a double life, she would live on what she jokingly calls a “Dalmatian plantation” and operate an animal rescue. While 5 million dogs would be ideal, she will settle for the three furry friends she has at home.
She balances studio time and being a business owner with being a busy mom running between soccer games, sculpture camps, Community Theater productions and a variety of other sports and activities. Her three children, Mathew, Brady and Ryann are as active as she is and between her and husband Andy (ALHS Alum) they balance the chaos of life with kids.
As she helps her children navigate the elementary, middle school and soon enough the high school years, she reflects on her days as a Council Bluffs student. Attending Walnut Grove, Wilson Junior High and Thomas Jefferson she remembers how proud they all were to attend those schools. There was such a culture of respect, and that feeling was so prevalent among all the classes, students felt fortunate to be a part of it all. As a younger student she remembers watching older students in the Homecoming parade and “kids just wanted to be part of it when they were older, they wanted to do the same things; as band members, athletes, dancers, cheerleaders, it didn’t matter, you just wanted to part of the tradition”. She remembers the score of Homecoming games in favor of the opponent, but it didn’t matter. “We had a huge pep band, a million cheerleaders, a big dance team, we were TJ and it didn’t matter. The school pride and school spirit was amazing.” She does remember one “incident” that involved packing peanuts and an opposing team vehicle. “Why the car’s sun roof was open, how we had so many packing peanuts, I don’t know. I do know the car was full!”
While in high school she was “big in the drama department, part of National Honor Society, Student Council, volleyball, senior committees, and of course being the 90s…Environmental Club.” A consummate “do-er” she was involved in whatever needed to be done, earning her the opportunity to be one of the graduation speakers. She is proud of the progression of education in Council Bluffs, noting the opportunities that IB (International Baccalaureate) schools provide. The pride in CB Schools is why she chooses to open-enroll her children from outside the district boundaries. She shares her feelings, “Students are treated as individuals, not the masses and not taught with blanket approaches. Students have opportunities for Spanish, Arts, etc. Staff members volunteered for additional training which ultimately benefits all students”.
Her post high school path took her to Iowa Western and on to Creighton University where she focused on dance, specifically ballet and earned a degree in Child Psychology. Every chance she had away from school she spent training in dance – spring breaks and summers were spent in Dallas working with Steve Boyd, on the East Coast at New York Broadway Dance Center, in Los Angeles at the Edge and other locations across the country to continue her dance studies. Her travels and education confirmed what she knew about herself; she was a home-body and chose to stay in Council Bluffs where she has lived her entire life. She worked for a short time in her field of educational study, but her heart kept pulling her back to the studio and using her creativity to teach a variety of ages. While she had been teaching private dance lessons in a studio located in her home, she soon opened the doors to Kerri’s Dance Studio. Now, celebrating 25 years in business and teaching thousands of students, her passion has become her way of life.
As a dance team coach she distinctly remembers an AL administrator mentoring her and offering advice. “Don’t hold kids to past mistakes.” While accountability is important, kids make mistakes, run into challenges and a permanent label is never beneficial. This is one of the things she loves about dance. Dance allows her to interact with kids, to be there when life takes a turn and mistakes happen, and when parts of life are difficult. As a coach, she enjoys being part of their lives and helping students dance through life, whatever that may bring.
While the stage may change; cheering backstage, choreography a piece to perform on stage, or parenting through a variety of stages, Council Bluffs will always be part of the production. “We love Council Bluffs, and have made a conscious choice to live here. If we can get it done in Council Bluffs that’s the road we’re going to take.”