Jerome Stigler, instructor, ballet teacher and choreographer at Ball State, views his body as an instrument and the classroom as a place to practice honing that instrument.

“We don’t have the luxury of carrying a script or a paintbrush,” Stigler said. “We paint everything with our bodies.”

After dancing for almost 30 years, Stigler said he feels fortunate and blessed to have been given the opportunity to do what he loves throughout his life.

Before Stigler was an instructor at Ball State, he was a boy from St. Louis with a dream fueled by his sister and the 1980 film “Fame.”

“I grew up in the ‘Fame’ era. That was one inspiration, but the other was my sister,” Stigler said. “My sister was in a dance group and I would go and watch them practice and perform.”

Street dancing was a creative outlet for Stigler as he grew up with his mother and six siblings in what is considered “the hood” of St. Louis. 

When studying at the University of Missouri-Kansas, Stigler danced with the Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company, which was started by two of his college mentors.

“I was one of three students chosen from the department, which was big because normally they don’t choose students, they bring in professional dancers,” Stigler said. “I got to dance with professional people who had an extensive career in dance, which helped develop my growth very fast.”

After graduating, Stigler moved to Dayton, Ohio and danced with the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company for three years. 

“While in Dayton, I did a PBS special when I was with them, ‘Free to Dance,’ and another, ‘Dancing in the Light,’ which is something I use as a teaching tool in my dance history class,” Stigler said.

He then moved to several other states, where he danced with several different companies. While he lived in Missouri, he joined a theatre group that traveled the world.

“I didn’t travel much growing up, so I was always excited meeting new people, learning different languages,” Stigler said.

Eventually, a friend suggested Stigler return to school as a graduate student so he could broaden his knowledge even further.

“I never thought about having my masters in dance. Then a friend put the thought in my head,” Stigler said. “I was in between jobs and I was like, ‘might as well go to school.’”

Stigler earned his masters degree at the University of Iowa and then began moving and dancing again. He started teaching dance during his three years of working at Disney World, but in 2005 he became a freelance dancer and returned to dance for Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company.

“They were the ones who gave me a foundation and I love the representation and I love the people,” Stigler said. “Of all the companies, Wylliams/Henry is the company I love performing with the most because we’re very cohesive. We were a unit.” 

In 2007, Stigler moved to New York, where he held a variety of different jobs. Stigler was a model, choreographer, instructor, actor and even worked on Broadway, which led him to live in Japan while working on a show.  

It wasn’t until five months ago that Stigler joined the Ball State faculty to fill a position that opened when an instructor left. During his time here, Stigler said he has enjoyed working with the faculty and students and plans on reapplying to stay at the university once his contract has been completed. 

“I like Ball State. The students are great, they’re very hungry for newness, they’re a great group of kids,” Stigler said.

At Ball State and the scholarship-based summer camp he runs with his friend, FrediDance Summer Dance Intensive, Stigler encourages students to be disciplined in order to prepare for their future. 

“He pushes the dancers past what we think we can do and has influenced positive change in our bodies and in our mindsets,” said Devin Hill, senior dance major. “He has made me want to work harder in all of my classes and strive to be a phenomenal dancer, performer and human being.”

Contact Justice Amick with comments at jramick@bsu.edu.