Dancing has taken Jasper native Kathryn Ann Key around the world and back again several times since graduating from Walker High School in 2007.
She has had opportunities to dance in 42 states and 54 countries across six continents.
Key learned to dance at age 2 from her mother, who operated Deborah's School of Dance, a studio in downtown Jasper. She has now turned to teaching dance herself in Manchester, England, an opportunity that arose after she earned her master's degree from John Moores University in Liverpool.
Before that, Key spent over a decade performing nationally and internationally for Disney as well as on cruise ships and in cities from Branson, Missouri, to Los Angeles and New York City.
"It's not an easy career. It's a really hard industry to be in, but when we're given the opportunity to perform, we do it with our whole heart and we want the audience to enjoy it," Key said.
Key got her first big break at 19 while still a freshman at the University of Alabama.
She auditioned to be in the Disney College Program, which started as an internship but led to a job as a seasonal employee at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.
"At that point, the University didn't have the relationship that it does now with Disney. I was kind of the first to venture down that way. I wrote my own program so that I could get my credits while I was living there," Key said.
Key worked in the entertainment department as a character. In the lingo of Disney, she was "friends" with popular characters such as Wendy Darling, Chip and Dale, Winnie the Pooh and at least 20 others.
Key split her time between Tuscaloosa during the semester and Orlando at every school break.
She eventually auditioned for Feld Entertainment, which puts on touring theatre productions such as Disney Live! and Disney on Ice.
With one semester left before earning her bachelor of arts in dance from UA, Key set out for Europe in 2011 with “Disney Live! Mickey’s Music Festival.”
The tour began in the Canary Islands and then made stops in Spain, Turkey, France and the United Kingdom.
"There is Disneyland Paris, but it's not the same as Disney being in your city. To be able to bring that experience to the kids was an amazing feeling. Every time I got on stage, it was more exciting," Key said.
At the end of the tour, Key relocated to Barcelona for a year and half before moving home and finishing her degree at UA.
Her next move was to New York City, where she studied at Broadway Dance Center.
She would remain in New York for the next five years, working multiple jobs to make ends meet and continuing to pursue her love of dance.
"I went back out with Disney Live! and toured in the Caribbean. I also did 'Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Musical,' where we did a States tour and Canada as well," she said.
In 2017, she branched out to cruise ships with Holland America.
She completed the line's Alaska run twice as well as the Caribbean run and one that took her to over 50 countries in eight months in 2019.
Though Key enjoyed life aboard ship, she embraced an opportunity last year to further her education. She currently teaches at Shockout Arts, a program of the University of Bolton in Manchester.
Key's previous teaching experience included stints at Dale Serrano Dance Studios in Birmingham, where she was once a student, and workshops at UA.
"I knew that if I was going to teach, it was going to be through higher education working with students who want to pursue this as a career," Key said.
Though her decision to focus on her master's protected Key from the career disruptions she might otherwise have experienced during the pandemic, she has felt the pain of others in the industry who have lost their jobs as the performing arts world has been largely shut down.
The time will come, though, when she'll be ready to get back to performing.
"I'd like to work toward the commercial side of things, so anything with TV and film," she said.
For more information on Kathryn Ann Key, visit her website at kathrynannkey.com.