Josiah Kauffman ballet

Josiah Kauffman leaps from the stage. The Belgrade man, 18, recently signed with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. He got his start at Belgrade’s Tanya’s Dance Co.

Charity Kauffman used to attribute her appreciation for her son Josiah’s dancing to motherly bias.

“I used to think, ‘It’s just me – I’m his mom,’ ” says the Belgrade mother of three. It wasn’t long, however, before she learned that she wasn’t the only one who found Josiah’s performances unusually compelling.

She remembers being told by an instructor at a summer dance program in Canada some years ago that Josiah brought a quality to the stage that made audiences want to watch him. His technical skills were lacking, but the teacher told his mother that those could be taught.

That instructor wasn’t the only one who spotted Josiah’s “It” Factor – the quality that Rob Moore, a professional dancer and instructor who came to Montana in 2016 to conduct, identified right away when he first saw Josiah dance.

Moore remembers that Josiah instantly stood out to him, and not just because he was the only male dancer present among about 100 girls.

“I could see the raw talent he had and the hunger and the passion,” Moore remembers. “I challenged him in the class, and he never backed down even once. I knew he would go far.”

Three years later, Moore’s prediction has proved correct. Kauffman, 18, has just been signed as a professional with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre after studying classical ballet for the past two years with Moore at En Pointe dance academy in Indiana.

“I don’t know if I fully realize it yet – it’s crazy,” said Kauffman during a telephone interview from Pennsylvania this week. “Most people do it in 10 years, but I only trained in classical ballet for about three. I never thought it would happen this soon.”

Kauffman began dancing at age 9 at Tanya’s Dance Co. in Belgrade, focusing primarily on contemporary styles of dance such as jazz, hip-hop and tap. When he began dancing, it was purely for fun, but Kauffman began to reconsider his aspirations after placing 16th at a competition in Las Vegas when he was 14. He decided then that he didn’t want that to mark the pinnacle of his career.

“I didn’t want to come close to the top that early,” he says.

Kaufmann made the choice to switch from competition dancing to ballet because he was attracted by the challenge.

“In classical ballet, you’re striving for perfection that’s not achievable,” he says about his motivation to pursue the art.

Kaufmann was training three to four hours a day at the Dance Center in Bozeman, but back in Indiana, Rob Moore had not forgotten the young man from Montana.

“I knew he was ready for the next chapter in his career,” Moore says.

He extended an invitation, and Kauffman enrolled in an En Pointe summer program. After the intensive had finished, he decided he wanted to further his training there full-time.

The decision was a tough one for the tight-knit Kauffman family. Josiah, his younger brother and his sister were being home-schooled, and his mother says she struggled with the idea of letting her first-born go so soon.

“We had made the commitment to keep them home until 18,” she says.

Finally, Rob Moore called and offered Josiah housing with his brother and sister-in-law, who are co-owners of En Pointe. The Kauffmans realized it was an opportunity that Josiah couldn’t pass up, and the results were mutually beneficial.

Kauffman was able to finish his Montana high school curriculum online while training eight hours a day, six days a week, while remaining in close touch with his family via FaceTime. Meanwhile, Kauffman’s presence and personality helped grow the men’s program at En Pointe, Moore says.

 “When he came, he was one of the only strong men we had. While he was here, the program grew really fast,” Moore says, adding that it enabled the company to stage a full-length version of “Don Quixote” for the first time.

It is Kaufmann’s leadership skills, humility, humor and positive attitude that helped influence the younger male dancers at En Pointe, adds Anne Moore, Rob’s sister-in-law and Josiah’s “host mother” in Indiana. Like his family in Montana, her own family, including her two teen-age sons, did not want to see Josiah go when the opportunity in Pittsburgh came up.

“We didn’t want him to go, but we won’t hold anyone back,” she says.

Kauffman auditioned for and enrolled in a 2019 summer training program in Pittsburgh. When it was over, he expected to go on to enroll in PBT’s graduate program this fall, but instead, Artistic Director Terrence Orr offered him a job.

At 18, Kauffman is the youngest member of the company, proving what Anne Moore says about him not being “your typical teenager.”

 Even so, Kauffman says he already has made friends among a number of the younger professional dancers, as well as among PBT graduate program dancers. He says he enjoys living in Pittsburgh, getting around on public transit, and sharing an apartment with an 18-year-old PBT student.

He currently is busy with rehearsals for “Giselle,” which the company will perform later this month, and he is looking forward to beginning work on PBT’s production of “The Nutcracker,” which will run for 26 performances during the upcoming holiday season.

Among the audience members for some of those performances will be Kauffmans from Belgrade, as well as Rob Moore.

“I’m proud I got the opportunity to work with him and share my knowledge,” Moore says. “Now he’s seizing the opportunities. I’m extremely proud of him.”