When the Student Becomes the Master

The Dance Department spends months preparing for its annual student-choreographed concert.


Sharisse Cohee

The dancers rehearse for the Fall concert.

Sharisse Cohee, Editor in Chief

Grossmont College dance students display the tremendous hard work and determination it truly takes to be a performer as they prepare to showcase the student-choreographed concert “Breaking Boundaries” at the Joan B. Kroc Theatre Nov. 8, 9 and 10.The showcase features pieces ranging from hip-hop to tap among many other genres.

The flawless, elegant moves a dancer displays when on stage translates many measures of emotion from an audience. The dancers appear majestic as the crowd becomes captivated by an art form unparalleled by any other.

The Summit followed Grossmont dancers on campus as they began the rigorous, yet ultimately fulfilling, journey of the auditioning process leading to the fall student-choreographed show.

The effortless appearance the dancers convey as they hit each mark in perfect sync is just one testament of the long hours and true dedication it takes behind the scenes preparing for a major concert.

Student dance auditions for the fall concert “Breaking Boundaries” took place Aug. 24. Dancers were mentally preparing for the tryouts and process long before that, as they were aware they must follow strict guidelines with their choreographers throughout the semester regarding attendance and rehearsals.
Preparation and practice are key elements in being a successful dancer, yet being a quick learner seemed to be a forte engrained in the minds of these artists/athletes. They deserve their own title: “Danceletes.”

This fast learning was demonstrated during the Aug. 24 audition, in which 54 hopefuls tried out for the fall concert. Out of the 54 hopefuls, 37 dancers advanced to be a part of one, or more, of 12 dances displayed during the winter concert.

Dancer #37, Grossmont student Serena Tait, seemed confident and to never miss a beat. She admitted that during the tryout she was “super nervous.” But through the eyes of an audience, her nervousness was never detected. She explained the difference in dance between high school and college, attesting to the learning pace of the choreography.

“High school you would normally get three days to learn a routine, this is on the spot,” said Tait, who was able to advance to the next step. Shortly after initial auditions, dancers and choreographers are informed if they are proceeding forward in the process, or if more practice may be needed to participate, but this year, all 37 moved forward.

Photo Courtesy: Sharisse Cohee

Not all dancers have to be necessarily skilled in order to make the concert. Sometimes it is the rookie dancers who add the most flavor, as Grossmont Dance Hip-Hop Instructor Melissa Adaox contested, “The concert is a way to show support for seasoned and first-time dancers, as it takes more than skill to create a successful cast. Sometimes green dancers contribute new elements to veterans and so much more.”

When a dancer has passed the initial audition process, the next step is enrolling in one of two Dance Theater Performance courses offered at Grossmont. Student choreographers must enroll in Dance 121: Student Choreography for Production, as they will be creating and producing dances to debut in the fall concert.

Taking on the role as choreographer is no easy task, as these students should have some prior knowledge of dance techniques and terminology. Dance department chair, Kathy Meyer explained, “Students are allowed to choreograph three times while a student here. Because we require that the student choreographers be concurrently enrolled in Dance 205 or have successfully completed the course in a prior semester, we have established a language that choreographers should understand and include when composing their dance.”

The student choreographer has been provided the tools to become a successful instructor although along with knowledge of dance, it also involves hard-work, endless dedication and long hours perfecting a routine with hopes that it successfully translates to the audience.

When third-year student choreographer Ranier Martinez, who also teaches dance classes at Grossmont High School, was asked about the role’s most difficult challenge, he responded, “Knowing what the audience is envisioning during your piece, taking that into account mentally, then trying to convey that as a performance on stage.”
All the hard work certainly pays off though, as Martinez said: “Once you are on stage impacting the audience, the satisfaction is worth it, your efforts creating a piece is worth it.”

The audition process does not end there though. Once dancers and choreographers have enrolled in the necessary course, they must compose a piece that consists of certain criteria such as thoroughly exploring body movement possibilities, use of stage space, as well as logical development of theme, among several other standards necessary to uphold Grossmont ideals.

The next audition milestone took place Sept. 28 as choreographers were required to show at least 50 percent of their piece to department chair Kathy Meyer as well as director David Mullen. During this stressful process, 12 dance pieces are shown to Meyer and Mullen as they issue feedback and praise while evaluating which pieces will move on to the final concert. These types of situations become stressful for dancers, but in turn, motivate them to perform to their best ability.

“Deadlines are stressful but rehearsals can be a lot of fun. The choreographers and dancers work hard to make sure their piece is right and a lot of work at home takes place,” said second-year dance student Danielle Revilla, who is participating in the tap as well as modern high-heel dance pieces for the concert contests.

Out of the 12 dance pieces, eight made the cut as the remaining four will be given the opportunity to display their dances at a later date in hopes they will then be able to perform in “Breaking Boundaries.” Fortunately, if the student’s piece does not make the final cut, the student is still able to assist with concert directors and concert-related tasks in order to pass the dance course in which they are enrolled.

The Dance Department directors said they hope all 12 dances will be strong enough to make the fall concert.
At the end of the day, the process is not only admired by dance students, choreographers and audience members, but also by directors.“From my perspective, the greatest rewards come in seeing young, often first-time choreographers understand and apply the notes that Kathy and I give, and grow and flourish as artists,” Mullen attested.

While the elegance and moves the dancers perfect make their craft appear with ease, the tremendous work and dedication put forth would make the average individual wither as the countless hours put into mastering their technique are finally revealed on stage for “Breaking Boundaries.”