Instructor fills Granby, Kremmling dance classes with ‘happy feet’ |

Instructor fills Granby, Kremmling dance classes with ‘happy feet’

Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News
ALL | Sky-Hi Daily News

To most people in Colorado, a “fourteener” refers to a mountain with a summit at least 14,000 feet in elevation.

But to Bertie Canepa Reifsteck, fourteeners are something totally different.

It’s what this dance teacher calls those students who start her local dance programs at age 3 or 4, then continue with them all the way to high school graduation.

This year, her 26th winter teaching dance in Kremmling and her fifth winter teaching dance in Granby, Bertie has six “fourteeners” ” the most ever.

She now teaches former students’ daughters and sons. “I’m second generation now, so that’s kind of fun,” she said.

To Bertie, dance has always been her destiny, a discipline that surrounded her even as a child.

Looking at family photos from her past, the book “The Dirty Dozen” springs to mind.

But look again, and Bertie’s parents were one child shy of the full dozen.

Seeing them in their coordinating outfits, a more accurate comparison can be drawn from the famous Swiss von Trapp family.

Bertie was a middle child in Wisconsin’s famed Canepa family.

Parents included, there were 13 of them, and all the children entered the world within a period of 16 years.

Dad Tony and Mom Alberta were performers. Alberta was trained in dance and ran a studio starting in 1954, and Tony loved to tap.

Aside from the studio and dad’s Goodyear dealership in downtown Bariboo, the home of the Ringling Brothers Circus (before Barnum and Bailey came along) and an old stop on the Vaudeville circuit in the late 1800s, the family income was supplemented by professional dance appearances that included the whole family ” from almost toddler to teeny-bopper.

The family not only appeared on television for Easter Seals and other telethons, but traveled around Wisconsin for weekends gigs. The Canepas also hosted a weekly local television program called the “Canepa Hour.”

Every show started out with the song “Happy Feet,” Bertie said, and ended with the old 1920s song “Whispering.” She now teaches the closing song’s routine to her older students.

At a recent niece’s wedding, Bertie said, “All 10 of us siblings got up and danced that thing. It’d been quite a few years since we’d practiced.” Then again, it’s hard to forget something you did from age 3 to graduation.

Growing up in such a large household took an organized mother, who would bring home bolts of fabric to make their matching clothes. To tackle laundry confusion, Alberta would assign a color to each child, then would attach an inch-long strip of colored bias tape onto all garments, coordinating each child with their clothes.

Bertie’s color was red. If certain pile was left behind, “You knew who wasn’t picking up her stuff,” she said.

On family summer vacations from Wisconsin to Florida, the entire lot would pile into the family car, a four-door Oldsmobile.

For the 20-hour trip, each child became a “top” a “wedge” or a “base,” Bertie said. A base was an older child who would sit on the bench seat with his or her legs crossed while a younger “wedge” would tuck in between. The smallest and youngest would sit on tops of laps.

“At least six of us weighed 100 pounds or less,” Bertie said. “We weren’t big people; we’re half Italian.”

Every 100 miles, the family would pour out of the car to stretch, play Frisbee or tag.

The family structure was understood. Everyone was in it together, so to eat and sleep in the family’s three story, 28-room house, each child had to sing and dance with the rest of the family. And each child grew up understanding that it was his or her duty to go to college at the end of the family ladder, Bertie said, and it was each’s responsibility to pay for it.

All of the Canepa children, trained by their parents in ballet, tap and jazz dance, attended the University of Wisconsin. Nine graduated, one transferred his senior year with seven credits left, the other left school to attend a two-year hotel and restaurant college in Miami, Fla.

Their dad was “a kind and giving man” Bertie said, who would rather give money to charity than have able and healthy children become spoiled. Each child had some sort of job to help out in addition to the professional dance gigs when he or she was old enough.

“We did without,” she said, “rather than turn into snooty kids who expected everything.”

Bertie was the only Canepa child to continue with dance in college. She choreographed high school, community and professional plays and ran her own dance school. Post-school, she moved to Chicago and joined dance companies and took classes at the Jimmy Payne School of Dance, the tap master who choreographed for Fred and Adele Astaire.

Her talent even landed her a spot on the Chicago Bear’s first-ever cheerleading and dance squad, called “The Bear Essentials Cheerleaders.”

During a stint working in male-dominated corporate America, Bertie discovered Colorado on a skiing trip.

“I woke up in Vail in gorgeous mountains,” she said. “to sunny blue skies. I thought, ‘I quit, I’m moving here.'”

Bertie, a wife and mother of two boys, now runs two popular dance studios in Wisconsin including her late mother’s in Bariboo and one in Lake Delton.

And for the last 26 years, she has been spent fourteen weeks in Colorado each year, living in Summit County and teaching dance classes in Kremmling and now Granby, ending with recitals in April; the rest of the year, she returns to Wisconsin.

“They’re great little towns,” she said about Kremmling and Granby. “They deserve a dance class they can count on.”

Her students are introduced to ballet, tap, jazz and hip-hop during her 12-week programs. “It’s really a sweet thing, no matter what age. Just see their faces, this is unlike any other experience they’d had that week.”

Dance, Bertie said, not only offers children flexibility and balance, but teaches them self-esteem, confidence, proper posture and grace.

“Music just always makes anybody happy,” she said. “Songs take you out of problems of life and stress from school. When the music is playing, you just lose yourself and be in the moment.”

” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail

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