A world class ballet dancer, performing throughout the U.S. and across the globe with the finest dance companies, grinding all day, every day, practicing to remain in top physical form.
Three or four understudies are always waiting to take your spot. You peer from behind the curtain, nervous, spying the New York City dance critics in the audience poised to evaluate your every move in tomorrow’s newspaper.
It’s go time and you’re ready.
This is the life that Judy (Shoaff) Reading, ballet teacher at The Findlay Academy of Ballet (FAB), lived during her 20-year professional dance career. Reading got married, retired, and moved to Findlay and now finds fulfillment imparting her knowledge to young people.
“The kids love me and I love the kids,” Reading said. “I like seeing their progression– not only their technique, but how they grow up, become disciplined and exert themselves just a little harder. I love to see their ‘A-ha’ moments where they say, ‘I can do this!’”
Originally from Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Reading began dancing when she was 8 years old.
“I never looked back– I loved it,” she said.
Reading attended the dance program at Indiana University. She next moved on to the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City, taking several dance classes a day, working at a department store at night, and performing for choreographers not affiliated with a particular company.
Reading was encouraged by a friend who danced for the NYC Ballet to audition in Europe. She travelled to France, Germany, and the Netherlands, and, after being offered three contracts, accepted one in Dusseldorf, Germany. There, she learned the language– and a lot more about ballet.
“It was a growing up process,” Reading said, fondly. “It was wonderful. I learned all the classic ballets. But they also had contemporary choreographers there and I got into that style as well.”
After returning to the U.S., Reading began the grueling process of auditioning again.
“You go to a zillion auditions and everyday run home to call your agent to see if any came through,” she explained. “You just never know. Maybe you were the wrong height, or they didn’t like this, or that. It seemed like to me the artistic director either liked you or they didn’t.”
Hundreds auditioned for the Boston Ballet, yet Reading was one of only two or three dancers to land a spot. During her five years there, she was asked to freelance for performances in New York City, as well as festivals across Europe.
For 12 years, she danced for the Ohio Ballet, which performed in Cleveland and Akron, and also toured across the U.S., Europe, and Latin America.
The next chapter
Reading met her husband, Ed, at a gathering after a performance for the Ohio Ballet. They married in 1991 and moved to Findlay in the late ’90s. While it was a sizeable adjustment, Reading decided to retire and found a new niche– teaching ballet.
She has taught at the University of Akron, Heidelberg University in Tiffin, the University of Toledo, and traveled throughout Ohio for Dance Unlimited, a federally funded program initiated by Lincoln Center in NYC, designed to bring the arts to kids of all ages in public schools.
Reading began teaching at FAB about 12 years ago and now teaches the Level 2B through Level 6 classes and is the director of The Pointe of the Evening Ballet. During Pointe, dancers from the FAB and professional company Neos Dance Theatre, which performs throughout Ohio, dance yearly at The Marathon Performing Arts Center. The performance raises funds for a scholarship that provides aid to local dancers.
Her husband has an appreciation for the arts and sits on the MPAC board of trustees. He played an integral role in the MPAC’s creation. Both Judy and Ed sit on the Neos Dance Theatre board of trustees in Akron, Ed as president.
As a teacher, Reading is loved by her students. Amy Barto, 17, will begin her 15th year of dancing this fall and has been a student of Reading’s since she was 5. “She’s probably one the most dedicated and hard-working women I know,” Barto said of her longtime teacher. “She’s incredibly humble and very good at balancing compliments and corrections. She’s also taught me that nothing comes easy, you have to be strong physically but also mentally. In order to achieve success you have to have the mindset that you will achieve and you’re willing to do anything to get there.”
Not only did Reading command some of the greatest stages of the world in her career, but at her level, she also brushed elbows with true dance legends. She was once invited by American mogul Agnes de Mille, an innovative dancer and choreographer, to perform in a musical on Broadway in New York City. She had to decline.
“I asked my artistic director if I could have a leave of absence (from the Ohio Ballet), but he said no,” Reading explains. “It was exciting that I was asked.”
Reading also dined with George Balanchine, a Russian choreographer who co-founded the NYC Ballet and is credited as “the father of American ballet.” Balanchine liked her roommate, a principal dancer for his ballet company. One day she announced Balanchine was indeed coming for dinner.
“I was so nervous,” she said, laughing. “That would be like President Trump coming for dinner. He was like, the Tiger Woods of dancing. I feel so lucky I got to meet him.”
Looking back, does she ever wish she took a different path?
“I wouldn’t give it up for the whole world,” Reading said, passionately. “I traveled and saw the world, and I worked hard at something I loved.”