Diverse dance program provides opportunities for every dancer

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In the world of dance, labels such as beginner and advanced, ballerina and hip hopper, or simply dancer and choreographer can exclude someone from a dance program, but Santa Rosa Junior College’s dance program strives to offer diverse instruction that is appealing to all students.

SRJC offers classes for beginning dancers, choreographers, performers, experienced dancers and those interested in learning about the history of dance. The program has more than 1,100 dancers each semester and 12 dance instructors to manage all of them. “It’s a great program and I’m really, really proud of it,” says dance instructor Debbe-Ann Medina.

Medina, who currently has a daughter in the program, has been involved in dance for as long as she can remember. “You don’t have to be an exceptional dancer to be in the program. We have classes for recreational dancers and first-time movers as well,” Medina explains.

The program is dedicated to expanding students’ knowledge of different genres of dance and encourages students to try as many styles as possible. SRJC offers classes in hip-hop, modern, ballet, jazz and recently added an afro-Caribbean class to the course schedule.

Medina recommends that students with no dance experience take Dance 10, which teaches students basic ballet, modern and jazz techniques at an easy pace. Students that have dance experience or have done activities like cheerleading are welcome to join a higher level of dance.

Aside from teaching students how to dance, SRJC also provides students with performing and choreography opportunities. The first opportunity for dancers to perform is Dance Ensemble, which is an audition-only touring company. Dance Ensemble’s annual kick off performance is on Nov. 18 in the Tauzer Gym at 1:30 p.m. The Dance Ensemble travels to nine different elementary, middle and high schools to perform. The auditions for Dance Ensemble, choreographed by students, take place in the fall. “Depending on how many people are in the class, we try to demonstrate as many genres as possible,” Medina says.

For beginning students that are interested in performing, SRJC offers a program called Dance Outreach. This non-audition class is open to anyone who is interested in dancing at events throughout the community. “What you do is work on small snippets of choreography and they put together different pieces depending on where they’re going to perform.” Dance Outreach has performed in Petaluma’s annual Butter and Eggs Day Parade, Women’s History Month events on campus, Mesa/PUENTE project fundraisers and the small school/high school conference. “I get phone calls all the time asking, ‘do you have a little group of dancers that can come and dance?’ and that’s typically what outreach does,” Medina says.

“The big shindig for all of our dancers and the thing that brings a lot of people to watch our dancers in action is the annual dance concert in the spring.” The annual concert features choreography from students and faculty. Students must audition for both choreography and performing positions. Auditions for students that want to choreograph for the show are held the first weekend of Spring semester. Once a choreographer’s piece is approved, he or she will then hold auditions to choose dancers for the piece.

“My daughter Raquel and I did a piece last semester called ‘The Magic of Michael,’ a tribute piece to Michael Jackson. Rehearsals were on Sundays, so everything is outside of class. Thirty-five students auditioned, but we only chose 19 of them. It’s a grueling process, but it’s worth it.”

Another unique aspect of SRJC’s dance program is what Medina calls master classes. Each semester, the dance program brings professional dancers from around the country to teach a free class that is open to all dance students. Later in the spring semester, a master dance instructor will hold auditions for a piece for the spring show. Once students are selected, they will be taught the entire dance in one weekend. “It’s about 18 hours of work in one weekend,” explains Medina.

As for advice to dancers, Medina says the key to being a successful dancer is studying dance. “It’s not just about showing up and trying to be reminded while you’re in class. If you take time outside of class and you practice some of the things that don’t seem to be working, whatever you can remember, practice it. It will help tremendously,” she says. Medina also recommends that dancers try each genre of dance. “Even if you don’t want to be a ballerina, you need the foundation of ballet. Students should take modern to learn the weight of their bodies.”

The diversity of SRJC’s program makes it possible for students to experiment with dance and expand their skills. SRJC also offers an associate degree in dance. “It’s always a nice plus for our students to add validity to their course of study here at the college,” Medina says.

Whether you want to take a dance class for fun, for an increase in physical fitness or to improve your abilities, SRJC’s program is a great place to start, Medina says. “It’s a really good place to be. We’ve had a lot of success.”

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