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Ballet, hip-hop and everything in between

Dance lovers, students and teachers find their own space at City College

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City College dance students during showcase rehearsals at the Saville Theatre

City College dance students during showcase rehearsals at the Saville Theatre

David Ahumada

David Ahumada

City College dance students during showcase rehearsals at the Saville Theatre

Ikedra King, Arts Editor

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No matter the experience level, students interested in taking their first or a refresher dance course at San Diego City College have a variety of classes and learning styles to select. The City College Dance Department currently offers more than 22 classes and is in the process of bringing courses such as African dance in the Fall semester, a class based on teaching children from the campus Child Development Center, and Latin American dance in Spring semester.

The once homeless dance department that ran a campaign 15 years ago petitioning for support and funding for a permanent teaching space on campus, now has semesters that are set up a year in advance. This allows students the opportunity to plan out their learning schedule for those classes that may only be provided once a year or online. When the department did not have a permanent roof or any at all, educators such as Professor Alicia Rincon and associate Professor Terry Wilson became resourceful with the program curriculum and held classes outside at Balboa Park or inside the campus gym. The now smaller, but powerful, program is more confident that it is better in tune with students’ needs.

 

Dance students during a Hip Hop breakdance breakdown at the Saville Theatre practicing for their "Evening of Dance" showcase.

 

Professor Rincon is one of only two full-time faculty members in City College dance department who has called the campus home for more than 25 years, while also teaching dance at UCSD. Rincon has recently taken a sabbatical as the program chair to become trained as a pilates instructor and help bring pilates to campus in the spring. Like dancing, Rincon said, “I love educating; it’s in my bones.”

To help with planning, teaching, and supporting the dance students at City College, Rincon personally handpicked a number of part-time staff members who have made her time between the two schools more favorable. “I see more passion and commitment from my students at City College than those at UCSD who attend school full time and sometimes use dance as a release to get out of their brains and into their body,” she said.

While simultaneously teaching at UCSD since the age of 26, associate Professor Wilson has taught everything except hip-hop, salsa and jazz; first as an adjunct professor then coming on board to be the second full-time faculty member at City College in 2006. Unlike Professor Rincon who has been dancing alongside her twin sister since the age of 14, Wilson first fell in love with dance at the age of 21 after deciding to take a community college ballet class at Palomar College.

Wilson said, “My colleagues are the real highlight to City College because they are so devoted to the work and the students. They are some of the coolest people I’ve met in my life who are grounded in humanity and caring.” A few of those highly acclaimed colleagues have choreographed a few pieces for the end of the year dance concert, alongside Wilson and Rincon.

First semester dance student at City College, D’Marcus Andrus, decided in December that his time with the United States Marine-Corps had come to an end and wasted no time diving back into his childhood passion of dancing. Andrus has loved dancing since he was 6 years old and is currently taking seven classes with hopes of transferring to UCLA, Cal State or UCSD dance programs after City College. “I welcome the challenge of starting over in a new field and afterwards I feel more promising than negative with the pros outweighing the cons,” he said.

Rachel Cook
D’Marcus Andrus showcases to his fellow classmates his airborne dance skills.

Each semester, alumni and professional choreographers are asked to come back to City to teach a masterclass for the day. Other alumni go on to do international work with dance companies, as well as become adjunct professors after earning their master’s degree in dance. Wilson said, “Several of our alumni have transferred to UCSD and gone on to win choreographic awards from the university.” Jean Isaacs San Diego Dance Theatre, London Contemporary School of Dance, SDSU, and Culture Shock Dance group are a few post graduate career opportunities that alumni have moved on to after building their foundation at City College.

The Jean Isaacs San Diego Dance Theatre’s White Box Arts, located in Liberty Station, is a nearly 2500 square foot performance space for dancers and artists to hold workshops, showcases, classes and private events that produce, educate, and curate works of art.

Abel Corza has attended City College for one year and will be featured in the upcoming showcase, An Evening of Dance: A Faculty and Guest Dance Concert, for the first time on May 18th at the Saville Theatre on campus. Corza is one amongst plenty of students who dance at the local Culture Shock dance company and looks to City College faculty members for insight to real life experiences as a professional dancer or studio/business owner in the choreography world. When asked why he chose City College over other dance programs available, Abel Corza said, “ The diversity of students and dance classes available to choose from was better and makes class more enjoyable…the professors have a lot of wisdom from first hand experience in the field that gives a leg up in business.”

While at City College, Professor Rincon has witnessed the ebb and flow of student enrollment in the dance department. Rincon said on the complicated factors that drive student enrollment; City College is a school where the majority of the students are working professionals or have family responsibilities. She also said that since City College has a large Latino demographic,  cultural perspective comes into play, “I’m a Latina so I understand that family comes first, then work and then school sometimes.” Most classes require a double-digit student enrollment limit campus wide which makes it challenging to introduce new courses that students are asking for and to reflect the different cultures on campus.

Rachel Cook
Students practicing synchronized choreography

Vincent “VV” Vongvichith recently became a zumba instructor after attending City College dance courses for a year and a half, building up his confidence and expanding on his foundations of hip-hop dance. VV will be dancing in the final dance showcase, and said he chose City College over Southwestern and Grossmont because of its proximity, nearby access to transportation like the trolley, and overall because of availability of different classes. “I do see myself transferring to SDSU and UCSD in two years, join a team and train, train, train or joining the military,” he said. This year Vincent has danced in the Jean Isaacs White Box show and the Art Walk Festival. He has also taught children hip hop dance at Outdoor Outreach for children from low income households, and he looks forward to dancing during San Diego’s 2018 Pride Festival.

Closing out each semester is the final dance showcase that students and faculty work the entire semester to perfect. Each semester the final dance showcase choreography is created by either the students or the following semester by faculty members. The City College dance department also has the privilege to bring in a regional dance company to produce work for the showcase. This year’s special choreographer guests are a married couple, Gina Bolles Sorensen and Kyle Sorensen, who are the Artistic Directors of somebodies dance theater and the creators of SubtleBodyBigDance.

The auditions take place at the beginning of each semester, providing a great opportunity for everyone to learn, grow and challenge themselves. Students chosen for the showcase have a large range of diverse experience levels from being in their first dance show ever to professional training since youth. Mandatory technical rehearsals come towards the end of the semester with full dress practices taking place at the Saville Theatre.

One of the senior dancers in the final dance showcase, Frances Tauzer, has participated in final dance showcases in the past almost each semester. Tauzer completed all of the modern classes during her three years at City College, and is now taking hip hop and salsa to expand her dance knowledge. “I looked into taking classes elsewhere but classes were also provided at City so I decided to stay because of the people and familiarity of the area over the years,” she said.

 

Rachel Cook
Student dancers and student journalist, lie in Shavasana Asana (corpse pose) while Department Chair and associate Professor, Terry Wilson lectures during her Movement for Wellness (Dance 127) class.

 

San Diego City College’s dance community is a welcoming environment filled with wisdom for the beginners and unwavering support for the dancer who almost gave up on their dreams. During my research on the department, I had the opportunity to sit in on a class and upon entering, I was welcomed with open arms right onto the dance floor!

With upwards to 50 students enrolled across the department, Dance department Chair Professor Wilson said, “That’s what’s cool about City I think…UCSD has students right out of high school but here we have 16 year olds all the way up to age 72. Students get the sense that no matter where you are in life or what’s going on, this is the place for you.”

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Ballet, hip-hop and everything in between