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Hempfield dad takes on different role as a dancer for Laurel Ballet

| Thursday, June 12, 2014, 11:18 p.m.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Mark Parker, 50, of Hempfield, practices a lift with his daughter Katie, 10, before a rehearsal on Tuesday, June 10, 2014 at Laurel Ballet in Greensburg. Parker was asked to dance the part of Don Quixote in ballet performances on June 14 and has been learning to dance since January. Katie has been dancing with the company since she was 3 years old.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Mark Parker, 50, of Hempfield stretches with his daughter, Katie, 10, before a rehearsal on Tuesday, June 10, 2014, at Laurel Ballet in Greensburg. Parker was asked to dance the part of Don Quixote in ballet performances on June 14 and has been learning to dance since January. Katie has been dancing with the company since she was 3.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Mark Parker, 50, of Hempfield, and his daughter Katie, 10, inspect Parker's newly made staff before a rehearsal on Tuesday, June 10, 2014 at Laurel Ballet in Greensburg. Parker was asked to dance the part of Don Quixote in ballet performances on June 14 and has been learning to dance since January. Katie has been dancing with the company since she was 3 years old.

Before a recent rehearsal began at Laurel Ballet in Greensburg, many parents filed into the basement of the building with their daughters and gave them kisses before they headed to the upstairs studio.

But Mark Parker, 50, of Hempfield was already upstairs with his 10-year-old daughter, Katie, warming up with stretches and jumps in his pair of black dance slippers to match her pink ones.

“I'm not a professional; I'm just a dad,” he said, as the two practiced a lift.

Parker, an insurance agent and former meteorologist for WJAC in Johnstown, will dance ballet publicly for the first time in the title role of “Don Quixote” at two performances on Saturday at the Palace Theatre in Greensburg.

“At first, I was kind of reluctant to try ballet, but then I thought, ‘What an opportunity to dance with my daughter,' ” he said.

A cast of about 75 dancers, including students at the school, will perform alongside Parker, who portrays the well-meaning Spanish dreamer who longs for his lost Dulcinea and battles a windmill he believes is a dragon.

“It's pretty tough,” Parker said, adding that he had to learn “from the ground up” with the help of his daughter and choreographer Judy Tubbs.

In the classic story, Tubbs said, Don Quixote was a minor character to the main storyline of two lovers who want to marry but are too poor to do so.

“Mark has a really excellent sense of timing, picks up combination well, a natural physicality for it, and completely changed the direction I was going with the choreography,” Tubbs said. “He really enhanced what I was able to do.”

Katie Parker, who has been dancing with the company since age 3, said she's not embarrassed that her dad is dancing, but glad he wanted to. It surprised her, but now even her friends in the cast are impressed, she said.

“They think it's pretty cool, too,” Katie said.

Kim Parker said she's gotten used to packing two lunches for Saturday rehearsals.

“This has been kicking his butt,” she said of her husband's newfound athleticism. “I think he has a newfound respect for what these girls go through.”

He has a quick costume change backstage and had to special-order a pair of tights from The Dancer's Closet in Greensburg, “a place I thought I'd never go,” Parker said.

He said his friends and other “dance dads” have given him some flak, but for the most part are encouraging.

“Of course, you get a little ribbing, but they're very supportive,” Parker said.

Most of all, he is glad to share such a memorable Father's Day weekend with his daughter.

“I couldn't ask for a better gift than doing something like this with my daughter and enjoying spending so much time with her,” Mark Parker said.

His wife agreed.

“I think it's a memory that he'll have forever and she will, too,” she said.

Katie, who is performing in the garland and muse dance scenes, said she'll cherish the holiday with him onstage.

“I think it's good timing,” she said.

Kim Parker said she'll be helping out backstage Saturday for the matinee. Then she'll try to calm her nerves, sit back and enjoy the evening performance.

“I'm sure I'll be the quiet, silently suffering, worrisome mom,” she said. “I always get more nervous than Katie.”

Mark Parker said he could use advice from his daughter about that.

“I wouldn't say (I'm) nervous, but apprehensive. Everything's been happening so fast, and we've been doing everything so quickly that I haven't had time to worry,” he said. “Hopefully she can give me some tips on how to stay calm before the show.”

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or sfederoff@tribweb.com.

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