“Play Disney classics!” one student shouted in response to the dance instructor’s question about what kind of music she should play for class.

The Phil Collins song “Strangers Like Me” began playing, and the students looked toward the front of the room to see what strengthening exercise their teacher, Maggie Kudirka, would demonstrate.

At the Artistic Movement Academy of Dance in Glen Burnie on Tuesday evening, Kudirka and her nine students sang along and laughed to Disney songs from films such as “Hercules” and “Descendants” as they trained for Kudirka’s ninth annual benefit concert on Sunday.

Her “No One Can Survive Alone” concert will be held at 2 p.m. at Howard Community College’s Smith Theatre. The event raises money for the “Bald Ballerina,” a name Kudirka gave herself when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in June 2014.

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“We’re usually given two to three years to live, so hitting 10 years is a really huge milestone, and I hope to hit 10 more,” she said.

Kudirka, 33, has metastatic breast cancer, which means the cancer has spread beyond the breasts. She said the cancer is currently in her bones, lungs, liver and brain. It’s terminal.

“It’s not just the surgery, chemo and you’re done,” Kudirka said. “It’s a lifetime of treatments and scans and blood work and going to the doctors and doing all of that. So it’s a never-ending journey until that cure is found, which hopefully is in my lifetime.”

This will be the first year that Kudirka won’t be performing at the concert, having retired last year. Instead, she will host and manage the show backstage.

It’s a decision that could stir up a mix of emotions, but Kudirka said it left her feeling relieved.

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She’s undergone various treatments over the past decade, which took a toll on her body and made getting ready to perform extremely stressful, she said.

Maggie Kudirka smiles for a portrait at the Artistic Movement Academy of Dance, her home studio, in Glen Burnie on May 28, 2024. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Samantha Latorre, a doctor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center, said individuals diagnosed at a younger age may feel healthy through the first few rounds of chemotherapy. After long periods of treatment, though, they may experience nausea, numbness, tingling, joint pain and hair loss.

“And then you get hit with that realization that, ‘Oh, I’m sick. I feel sick, I look sick,’ and that really creates a barrier with people, kind of distancing themselves from the rest of their life,” Latorre said.

To help with the emotional toll of cancer, Latorre said, finding different ways to engage with the world and stay involved with passions and hobbies can provide comfort and support.

This is exactly what she did.

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She has stayed engaged with her love of dancing and has taught ballet and ballet conditioning classes for 14 years. In her classes, she loves to share her knowledge with her students. This includes how to listen to, and take care of, her body, and especially when to know if something is wrong.

Teaching, though, wasn’t always at the top of her list.

“Before my diagnosis, when I was in my 20s, I didn’t really want to teach,” Kudirka said. “It wasn’t something I was passionate about, and now I’m teaching, and I love it. So the world does funny things.”

A Howard County native, Kudirka trained while growing up at Ballet Royal Academy, which has since closed, and studied dance performance at Towson University. After she graduated, she went to a student-based company in New York called the Joffrey Concert Group.

By 2014, she was auditioning for professional companies. But at the end of the dance season, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was 23 years old.

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“That ended my professional dance career, but started a whole new life and journey and world,” Kudirka said.

Although her dance career ended sooner than she expected, she said she’s strived to give back to the breast cancer community — advocating and sharing her story, and hopefully helping other women diagnosed with the disease in their 20s.

Kudirka said 13-15% of people diagnosed make it to the 10-year mark, but that it’s hard to find the exact survival rate because doctors and researchers don’t typically track past five years.

She said she’s lost a lot of friends since she was diagnosed, but has made a lot of new friends, too. They have really helped her.

So have her Pomeranian dogs, including one named Kenny, who is featured on the benefit concert poster. Kudirka said being connected to the dance world, laughter and anything Disney has helped her to stay positive.

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She knows her Disney, too. In Tuesday’s ballet conditioning class, she knew every song and debated with her students over which classic movie version was the best.

She smiled while explaining how to execute each stretch. She let her students know she would be going back to Disney World in November.

Maggie Kudirka instructs a ballet conditioning class in Glen Burnie on May 28, 2024. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Tuesday’s class consisted of all students who will perform in Sunday’s benefit concert. One of them, Anami Halo Canterna, has been a student of Kudirka’s for 10 years. This will be her eighth year performing in the annual concert.

She said dancing in Kudirka’s benefit concert is always the highlight of her year. Now 16, she’s performed in them since she was 8.

“It’s always such a special time for us all to come together to dance for Maggie and such an amazing cause,” Canterna said. “I just love getting to see the same people, and new people, every year come together for this event, and it’s just so much fun, and it’s such a nice way for us all to celebrate Maggie.”

Canterna will perform in three dances.

Numerous professional dancers will also be featured in this year’s concert, all appearing on a volunteer basis for the fundraiser. They include Katie Williams, a Howard County native and childhood friend of Kudirka’s.

Williams is a soloist with the American Ballet Theater, and said this is the first time she’s come back to Howard County to perform since moving to New York at 16 to pursue ballet professionally. Kudirka had invited her previously, but Williams couldn’t attend either because of COVID-19 or injury.

She said she’s known Kudirka since she was 6 years old. “She just had such an inner joy, and it was so apparent when she was dancing just how much she loves the art form, Williams said.

“She also just has such a generous and supportive spirit, the fact that she’s made this happen, and she’s the epitome of a strong, resilient, just wonderful person. And I think that comes out in her dancing, too. You can really see her. She shines on stage.”

Williams said this will also be the first time that she has seen Kudirka in person since moving away. She’s excited to give her a huge hug and tell her how awe-inspiring she is.

At the concert, Williams will perform a pas de deux — a dance for two — with her friend and colleague Jose Sebastian.

Kudirka said the concert will include contemporary, classical ballet, jazz and tap dances, and even a Sri Lankan dance.

In past years, 300 to 400 people have attended.

“It’s always a day to celebrate children, my friends and family who have supported me over the years, and just everyone who has been in my life since my diagnosis,” Kudirka said. “They really have rallied behind me.”

Maggie Kudirka laughs during a ballet conditioning class in Glen Burnie on May 28, 2024. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

The amount of money raised has varied, with as much as $12,000 taken in one year, she said.

All of the proceeds go to Kudirka’s medical bills, medicine — a weekly dose can cost thousands of dollars — and medical necessities such as her personal trainer, who helps her stay active and healthy. Every penny helps, she said. The funds could also help her travel to get a second opinion or take part in a clinical trial, if possible.

Kudirka said she’s able to pay for treatments and medicine through fundraising from the concert and donations throughout the year.

Tickets are for a suggested minimum donation of $35. Other fundraising opportunities include a silent auction, “Bald Ballerina” merchandise for sale, and a small number of 10th anniversary T-shirts for the concert.

The soft pink shirts have a blue design of a dancer on the front, the number 10, and the slogan “No One Can Survive Alone” in the shape of the breast cancer ribbon on the back.

Maggie Kudirka wears this year’s shirt for the “No One Can Survive Alone” benefit concert on May 28, 2024. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

Kudirka was wearing the limited-edition shirt at Tuesday night’s class as students prepared for the concert.

The last exercise of the evening: a 5-minute plank.

As “Chillin’ Like a Villain” from the movie “Descendants 2″ played in the background, Kudirka laughed alongside her teenage students as they tried to hit the falsetto notes while keeping in the plank position.

After almost a year of planning, her benefit concert marking 10 years with breast cancer was almost here.