Even while enduring chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer, Howard County ballerina dances on

Margaret “Maggie” Kudirka continues to amaze us with her unswerving dedication to dance and for producing shows despite her rigorous chemotherapy treatments at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore for breast cancer.

On Jan. 13, the indomitable Kudirka will return for her fifth annual fundraising concert “No One Can Survive Alone” with proceeds to ease medical expenses for herself and other cancer survivors.

Students and professionals, family and friends, some traveling from long distances, will gather for the afternoon concert to support Howard County’s sweetheart ballerina.

“This fifth concert is especially meaningful because I am still alive and still dancing,” Kudirka said, in a telephone conversation from her Ellicott City home in the Valley Mede neighborhood. “When I was diagnosed in 2014, medical statistics gave me a life expectancy of two to three years. I knew that only one in four metastatic breast cancer patients live five years. I am fortunate to be among that group and grateful to my outstanding medical team and to everyone who has supported, encouraged and prayed for me. It has given me hope and kept me living and dancing.”

Kudirka began dancing at age 4 and trained as a youngster in the county. The Howard County Arts Council awarded her the “Rising Star” in 2013, and a few months later she earned a degree in dance from Towson University.

Kudirka was just beginning her ballet career with the Joffrey Concert Group in New York City when she discovered an ache and a knot in her sternum that would not go away. “I just thought muscle pain…we were doing a lot of partnering…but it didn’t get better,” she later recalled.

Soon after her own diagnosis, a breast cancer survivor suggested that Kudirka produce a dance concert to take her mind away from her struggles and make a difference.

“She was right,” said the now 27-year-old. “Planning took my mind off cancer; rehearsing gave me physical motivation and donations helped with medical bills.”

Besides defraying medical expenses, Kudirka’s bigger mission is awareness.

“I want people to know that no one is immune. Anyone can get breast cancer,” she said. “I want young girls to know they’re in charge of their bodies and if they feel some something is not right they should be able to ask for help and get what they need.”

She shares her story and travels the country teaching ballet master classes and to raise funds for cancer treatment and research. Her story has been told to young dancers up and down the East Coast. Photos of her beautiful face (and ballerina body) have graced the cover of magazines, newspapers and television ads.

“I want this concert to be meaningful to me, so I invited performers who had played important roles in my life as a dancer and cancer survivor,” said Kudirka, with more than a hint of pride. “You can imagine how I was overwhelmed when everyone invited enthusiastically agreed.”

The first concert, held in a dance studio in October 2014, offered a mix of dance genres, professional dancers and students from leading dance schools. Many of the performers and members of the audience requested that the fundraiser become an annual event. It moved to Howard Community College in 2017 with ample room for a display of dance artifacts, a silent auction and a post-show reception.

One of the sweetest moments took place on the Smith Theater stage at the college when Kudirka danced an exquisite contemporary piece, created for her by international ballet star Adrienne Canterna who was touring in Europe at the time of the concert.

Just off the plane from Germany, Adrienne popped up at the college, surprised her friend, and delighted us with an extraordinary presentation dedicated to Kudirka. The audience stood and cheered for both women as they hugged and twirled around joyfully. Others cried when the tall, lithe ballerina graciously thanked all the dancers who inspire her as she embraced her “dance sister” Adrienne, who has been there for Kudirka from the beginning.

Canterna, a recipient of numerous ballet awards including the Women’s Gold Medal, wowed us last year when she joined her leading man in a sultry pas de deux that warmed a cold January day quicker than you can say Bad Boys of Ballet. Blonde, vivacious and spontaneous, we look forward to seeing what this talented woman has in store for us at Sunday’s gathering.

There wasn’t a dry eye at an earlier benefit when Kudirka ripped off her pink headscarf and fell to the floor during her poignant Loss and Survival solo, set to the familiar Edith Piaf song of no regrets. Just about everyone standing on stage and in the audience applauded “The Bald Ballerina,” a moniker she gave herself after treatments for stage 4 metastatic breast cancer that left her without hair.

The line-up for Sunday’s concert is impressive, with some professional dancers returning and others who have never performed in our area. Highlights include Adrienne Canterna and her award-winning family members, Alicia Canterna and Ashley Canterna Hardy, who is one of the four dancers in the program that Dance Magazine featured in its popular “25 to Watch” issue.

Other stellar stars (who made the aforementioned list) include Maeghan McHale, a graduate of the Baltimore School for the Arts and currently dancing in Chicago; Jim Nowakowski, a finalist on “So You Think You Can Dance,” and Sophie Miklosovic, a young virtuosi ballerina who dances with Ballet Met in Ohio.

“Daria Breslin performed in the first four concerts as an Edna Lee Dance Studio student, and this year will be her first appearance as a professional,” Kurdika said proudly. “Eddie and Kelly Hall have also shared their talent at all our fundraisers.” He is the 2017 USA National Yoga Men’s Champion; she is a dancer, gymnast and yogi.

Dana Donofree, a breast cancer patient and founder of AnaOno, a lingerie line for cancer patients, will serve as master of ceremonies.

Riley Marshall, a 13-year-old who charmed us in past shows, will perform for the fourth time this Sunday.

“She was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, and like me, she continued dancing while undergoing chemotherapy, Kudirka acknowledged, of Riley. “She is my ‘Bald Ballerina Junior’ and a portion of the raffles will be donated to help with her medical bills.”

The fifth annual “No One Can Survive Alone: A Fundraiser Concert for the Bald Ballerina” will be held at Howard Community College’s Smith Theater, 10901 Little Patuxent Pkwy, Columbia, Sunday, Jan. 13 at 2:30 p.m. Suggested donation $35. For tickets, contact BaldBallerina@gmail.

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