Dance Wire Founder/Director Emily Running talks with Jesus Rodales about his life and career in dance. We talk about how he lives his life the way he lives his dance, the ways he feels underestimated, and how he wants to see more cross-participation between dance styles.
At the Aspire Project, dance isn’t just about learning the right steps. It’s about learning that hard work and discipline are the building blocks for achieving dreams. Sue Darrow, Founder and Executive Director would know, as Aspire was built on her own hard work, discipline and a dream of offering dance to all.
At Aspire Project, everyone is welcome. Since many students at Aspire are the first in their families to dance, offering encouragement and maintaining a positive environment is key. One young student enthusiastically exclaimed, “You don’t even have to be good to try!” That goes for kids and adults. Students at Aspire range in age from 3-83 and in level from beginner to advanced. Regardless of where a student begins, Aspire Project emphasizes that practice is essential for success.
Along with not turning anyone away for lack of skill, they also won’t turn anyone away for lack of funds. In fact, making sure dance is affordable was a key component of Sue’s dream and continues to be central to their work. Nearly 50% of Aspire’s enrollment is from low-income families, the majority of which are able to be supported by scholarships thanks to fundraising efforts by the staff and board. In addition, recitals are entirely free to both dancers and families. Beyond that, in recent years a few students who decided dance was really something they wanted to pursue successfully auditioned for Oregon Ballet Theatre. Aspire Project helped them with a financial aid application and paid a portion of their tuition to make it possible for them to attend.
The Aspire Project was also built with a well-rooted understanding of the value of community and education which is why they partner with five North Portland after school programs to provide tuition free dance classes, and host an youth summer camp through the Rosewood Initiative. With arts and physical education struggling to make the cut in school budgets, these programs provide an essential component of a well-rounded education kids are not getting through their schools. The programs also introduce dance to those who may otherwise never have the opportunity take lessons or perform.
Hard work, discipline, creativity, physical education and the message that anyone can achieve their dreams with the right attitude and training- these are the blocks that The Aspire Project was built upon….
Portland Community College is the largest post-secondary institution in Oregon serving nearly 73,000 full-time and part-time students per year. But you don’t have to be a student or pursuing an academic degree to take dance classes there. Some are no credit classes, some are for credit classes (which can be audited) and all are open to the public!
The only catch, which is actually one of it’s greatest assets, is that you must sign up for the entire term. While it might deter people at first glance, committing to class one or two times per week offers something that people often crave in drop-in classes but don’t’ get, which is a progression. Sara Parker, the Dance Department Chair says “What I see happen in my classes is that while it may start out at a lower level, as the term goes on, people get stronger and ultimately end up more advanced at the end. For beginners, that progression often makes the class less intimidating, while for professionals, they know that consistency is key for advancing. I find students of all levels find it very rewarding.”
Another thing Sara points out about dance at PCC is that it really offers something for everyone. The level of students range from professionals wanting consistency in their training, to beginners who dance because, as one student puts it, “it just makes me feel like a human!” With four official campuses and multiple satellite partner locations, they serve a wide geographic area and offer classes at times that make it accessible for both the day-job types and the freelancers. And at $112 for a 1.5 hour class that meets twice a week for 10 weeks, it’s probably one of the most affordable classes in town!
Dance styles include ballet, modern, jazz, hip hop, ballroom, and Afro-Brazilian. Beyond technique classes, there is also a Dance Performance course that gives students the opportunity to perform at the end of the term. Sara describes this course as “process-based vs product-based.” She sets an original work on the people in the class, which can include any level of dancer. “Basically it includes a lot of physical exploration. investigation and discussion about process – why we are choosing to do what we are doing – and ultimately from all of those experiences the concept of the piece is born and I create a unique piece.” While out in the dance world the emphasis is often on the product (the work created), in this setting the emphasis is on the process of creating. “Some of my students take this course specifically to get more performance experience, while others have said they simply do it for what they learn about themselves along the way, with no intention of advancing as a performed. Either way, working in this style is a rare luxury and can be very inspiring.”
Laura Onizuka talks with Maria Tucker about her life as a professional dancer. Maria shares her thoughts on the importance of mentorship for young dancers, how dancing is for everyone at any age, and her experience working with Royal Caribbean Cruiselines.