Super Senior: Shelley Ismail

Published: Nov. 24, 2022 at 5:46 PM EST
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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Shelley Ismail has lived a life in motion.

“Yeah, it’s been my whole life,” she said. “It’s definitely fulfilled me, especially my teaching.”

The former professional ballet dancer teaches her art to others, like Genevieve Hansen.

“I’m just so lucky to have had her as a teacher,” Genevieve said.

She’s been training with Shelley since she was 7 years old.

“If she’s still teaching, then I’m still dancing,” Genevieve said.

Shelley’s love of ballet goes way back.

“I was probably like a typical little girl at 4 years old who told her mother that she wanted to study dance in Far Rockaway, New York,” she said.

Through determination and talent, Shelley’s career started at 18. She danced her way from New York City to Switzerland, eventually pirouetting at Les Grands Ballets Canadiens in Montreal.

“I had a long performance career,” Shelley said. “It was probably dancing for about 20 years and then I started teaching.”

It was in the late 1970s when she and two other ballet dancers decided to ditch the city for a more pastoral setting and ended up in Franklin, Vermont. Manon Pellman was one of them.

“We go so far, she’s like my sister, you know,” said Manon, who is also Genevieve’s mother.

Genevieve drives an hour and a half once a week to take Shelley’s class.

“It’s like an old friend for me,” Genevieve said. “And she makes you feel like a beautiful dancer.”

The class is a mixture of teens and, well, much older ballerinas.

For the first 45 minutes, it’s the barre-- the warmup. Then it’s onto the center. For laymen, it’s the performance.

What’s really amazing is the 80-year-old teaches three times a week.

“I feel an obligation, because I’m so devoted to the way I teach, my philosophy,” Shelley said.

Reporter Joe Carroll: When does this class end?

Shelley Ismail: (Laughs.) They’re probably saying the same thing!

The class goes over two hours, well into the evening without a break.

“I tell my students every year I don’t know if I can do another year because I don’t,” Shelley said.

“I love Shelley,” Genevieve said. “She’s more than a dance teacher to me, she’s a mother, a friend, she’s seen me through so much.”

Living a graceful life.