Dance program leaps ahead

For decades, the Santa Monica College dance department, currently led by department chair Judith Douglas, has helped dancers achieve their  dreams. Its mission is to prepare students for future careers as dancers, choreographers, dance critics, and teachers by offering a comprehensive array of classes designed to cultivate technique, an appreciation for world dances, creativity, and performance skills.

Dance instructor Karen McDonald, who is a professional dancer and award-winning choreographer, has been teaching modern dance at SMC since 2004. She says she has noticed the high quality of students being drawn into the program.

The concept here is that of nurturing the best," she says. "No different than Julliard. Our well-rounded faculty is highly committed to that nurturance.”

Also SMC dance instructor Jae Young Lee recognizes the quality of the dance instructors and students.

"We are attracting more advanced dancers into the program," she says. "Perhaps this is because dancers themselves are now exposed to a higher level of dance in general."

But students, encouraged by the dance faculty to explore other arenas in dance, are not only given the chance to learn from SMC's dance instructors, but also from guest dancers and choreographers who give lectures on their field of expertise, says Lee.

Both the faculty's and the students' diversity is essential to the dance program, says Lee.

"It’s crucial that the program focuses on individualism," she says. "My philosophy is that each person comes from a different background, and that will end up expressing itself in the dance. And we are lucky to have excellent faculty members, all of whom embrace the diverse population here."

The dance department has its own two dance companies, Synapse and Global Motion, which both will be performing on SMC's Broad Stage this November, featuring choreography by students, faculty and guest artists.

Synapse, directed by Lee and SMC dance instructor Roberta Wolin-Tupas, has been SMC's contemporary dance ensemble for more than 40 years. Styles range from modern to postmodern, contemporary ballet to modern jazz and hip hop fusion.

SMC's dance instructors Raquel Ramirez and Sri Susilowati co-direct Global Motion, which performstraditional and contemporary forms of world-ethnic dance.

The dance department gives students the opportunity to earn credits for an associate degree in arts or for the transfer to a four-year university.

The dance department offers lecture classes as well as practical classes in commercial dance like jazz, tap, ballroom, world dance and contemporary dance.

Dance students can also enroll in different technique levels of ballet, choreography, and modern dance.

The department is in the process of creating a dance-teaching certificate for students interested in dance education and the teaching of dance.