- Cullman, Alabama

February 17, 2013

Rediscovering a passion for dancing

By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times

CULLMAN — She was born in Nashville, lived in Franklin for most of her life, graduated from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and wound up in Hanceville. “What am I going to do here in this small Alabama town?” wondered Jessica Brackeen when she first got here about a year ago.

What she has done, in her own words, is to network more successfully than at any other place she has ever lived, gotten a job teaching at a community college, and re-discovered her passion in life — dancing.

“It’s been almost dropped in my lap,” smiled the 24-year-old ballroom dance instructor. “I came here from living in Tennessee with my mom, Rhonda Demonbreun, and my two little brothers, Timothy and Micah, to help care for my grandparents, John and Fay Boles, who needed some live-in assistance for several months.”

She had been in ballet for a time when she was younger, but changed to violin lessons at the age of six, then fell in love with the circus. “I wanted to be the girl spinning by her teeth on the highwire,” she laughed, although not entirely kidding.

As she grew older, she set her sights on something a little more realistic — the color guard. “I was in color-guard in high school and in college.” she said. “My squad even went to San Diego to compete nationally.”

She received her degree in American Sign Language and is a qualified interpreter. “I love sign language, it’s so beautiful,” she said.

After college, still in Knoxville, a friend overheard her talking about her love of dancing. “My studio is hiring, if you are interested,” she told Brackeen. Of course she was interested. She applied, went through training, and became a ballroom instructor.

“One way or another, I’ve been dancing my whole life,” she laughed.

Just because she wanted to stay on top of her game, she enrolled in the Ballet Theatre School of Cullman. Once there, it was inevitable that she would ultimately cross paths with Shirley Quattlebaum. Brackeen and Quattlebaum struck up a conversation, with Brackeen giving a little of her background in dancing to Quattlebaum. She happened to mention that she was a ballroom instructor. Shirley’s eyes lit up, “You don’t even know why you are here, do you?” she asked Brackeen.

She went on to describe the upcoming “Dancing With Our Star’s” event that would be perfect for Brackeen. That conversation eventually led to Brackeen  becoming one of the professionals involved in the Relay For Life fundraiser. For the next two months, she coached and then partnered with Judge Rusty Turner onstage the night of the occasion, in front of a packed house.

Like dominoes, everything just seemed to fall into place after that.

Now she is teaching both beginners and advanced ballroom dancing classes at Wallace State Community College. She also offers classes in aerial silk dancing. If this sounds unfamiliar to you, think of the Marriott hotel commercials a few years ago with the lady dancing in the drapery.

 She adapted this dance to include elements of ballet, stretching, yoga and Pilates into each lesson. “This dance is very graceful, very fluid. It builds upper body strength and flexibility, as well as self confidence,” she points out.

“Its all about thinking that this life is too short, you only get one chance to pursue your dreams,” she said, wise beyond her years. “I always see people doing things that I’d like to do and I tell myself that if they can do it, then I can do it, too.”

Perhaps the one thing that had marred her stay here is the disappearance of her beagle/min-pin (miniature pincher) Belle, back in April. She put up flyers in the community around Johnson’s Crossing near her grandparent’s home, but so far, no word of the five-year-old pet. “She has a chip in her ear, so hopefully, if someone finds her, they will have a veterinarian contact me,” she said.

“No questions asked, but I really just think she just wondered into someone‘s yard and they don’t know who she belongs to.”

If you should see her pet, you can reach Jessica at 615-260-7811.


Classes in Ballroom Dancing are Tuesday nights at WSCC in the Burrow Center. Advanced classes start at 6 p.m. and beginner’s class begins at 7 p.m. The next six-week session begins Feb. 26.

The fee for either class is $30/person. Each set of classes are six weeks.

Aerial Silk Dancing is from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday nights and the fee is $40 for a 4-week session. The next session starts Feb. 28.


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