You want a long, straight back,” Heidi Huckelberry tells me.
We’re in the studio at Showgirl Supplies on Industrial Road, where she’s teaching me Pilates and pole dancing. An odd combination, but Huckelberry likes to mix things up.
I glance in the mirror: My shoulders are curled, my back curved like a question mark—as opposed to the tapered exclamation statement of Huckelberry’s body. At 33, she has the long, sculpted legs you would expect of a dancer; but also a broad back, strong arms and the muscled shoulders of a gymnast or a swimmer.
Huckelberry instructs me to shift my this, and tuck my that, until at last, I manage proper form.
“That’s why I love Pilates,” she says. “There’s always a way to do something. You change things up; you adjust things, and you can do it.”
In this way, Pilates is the perfect metaphor for Huckelberry’s life.
She began ballet at age 6 and went on to earn a minor in dance from the University of Arizona (she majored in East Asian studies). In 2003, she spent a year in Guam, dancing in a Vegas-style show, choreographed by Jerry Jackson, at Sand Castle Guam. In 2004, she landed in Las Vegas to perform in Jubilee! at Bally’s.
Huckleberry had auditioned for Jubilee! twice before, so she was thrilled to finally win the role of a “short” dancer (she’s 5 feet 8 inches tall) in the topless line. For about a year, she was living the dream, dancing six nights a week alongside a cast of 80 in gorgeous costumes for appreciative audiences in a legendary Las Vegas production. But in 2005, performing a basic twist to the stage floor, she herniated two discs in her lumbar spine. The prognosis wasn’t good: Huckelberry was told to hang up her dance shoes.
Instead, she pushed herself through rehab, then a year-and-a-half of intensive Pilates training, and in 2006 she won a part with Les Folies Bergère at the Tropicana, where she danced until the show closed in 2009. At the same time, she earned her Pilates certification, in order to help others master their bodies and direct their lives, the way she had her own.
Now, Huckelberry’s workweek includes teaching Pilates therapy to injury victims and conditioning to professional performers with Cirque shows The Beatles Love and Viva Elvis. She also teaches pole dancing to professional dancers looking to upgrade their skills and even housewives hoping to upgrade their sex lives. It’s a strange mix of work, but it suits the dancer who once choreographed a pointe routine to Jimi Hendrix.
“I want to make a positive difference,” she says. “My own lesson was to not settle with what was expected, but to try to exceed what even I expected of myself.”