How does a Johannesburg-born auto-assembly-line worker end up directing a dance production that aspires to meet the standards of a Broadway show? Ask Thamsanqa Hlatywayo, who has been teaching South African dance for the past two years at Laney College in Oakland, California. A volunteer, Hlatywayo formed Jikelele Dance Theater as a student-based company, much in the way that the well-known Bay Area dance company ODC emerged from the cocoon of the Oberlin College dance department in the early 1970s.
Dancers tell stories with movement. And the story that Half and Halves: A Dance Exploration of the Punjabi-Mexican Communities of California tells is no small tale: it tackles immigration, agriculture, xenophobia, ambition, and the necessity of love.
Being a dance teacher requires almost constant creative thought, from teaching dance classes to dreaming up shows and performance opportunities for students. Where does all this creativity come from?
What dancer doesn’t dream of traveling the world, pursuing a dance dream to exotic parts of the globe? Such experiences aren’t reserved only for those lucky few who dance professionally for international touring companies. In reality, a whole world (no pun intended) of opportunities exists to pursue a love of dance abroad through cross-cultural dance research.
Many dance schools that excel in one area falter in another. They might boast a strong pointe program, for example, while lacking challenging modern classes, or show off knockout competition choreography at the cost of supporting students’ positive growth in the classroom. Enter Malu Rivera-Peoples, however, and you’ve got another story. Her Westlake School for the Performing Arts (WSPA) in Daly City, California (just south of San Francisco), juggles a culture of dedicated training with success in competitions and a rich cultural program, getting results on a broad scale. What’s her secret? It all boils down to hard work and love.
As a young folk dancer in his native Cambodia, Sokvannara Sar never dreamed of pursuing a professional ballet career; not long ago, in fact, he was unaware that ballet even existed. So how he got from his village to the corps of Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet—with an extended layover in New York City and a side trip to Varna—makes for a remarkable story. Anne Bass has captured it in her engaging documentary, Dancing Across Borders, which came out last summer.
Dancing “to save your life” has a literal meaning for classical Cambodian dancer, teacher, and choreographer Sophiline Cheam Shapiro. Sophiline, now 41, lived through some of the most turbulent times in her country’s history. She was 8 years old when the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in 1975. She lost her father, two brothers, her grandmother, and many other relatives during this time, as most families did. Today Sophiline is one of the most significant artists in the movement for the preservation of classical Cambodian dance.
Alexandra loves the chance to travel and see new places. Iris loves to meet new friends from other towns. Sisters Solana and Tavia love to wear the wide-flounced skirts and make a statement, loud and clear, with their feet.
Dance is uniquely empowered to carry the nuances of a culture. For the millions of Chinese people living in the United States and Canada today, dance can be a way to maintain ties to the homeland.