Inside San Diego
Stories about City Services, Employees, Residents and Communities
For more than 70 years, the San Diego Civic Dance Arts program has provided opportunities for students of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to learn to the sequences of human movement and artistic expression known as dance.
“The instrument that I love in dance is the human body,” said Daniel Lewis, a former Juilliard instructor and guest choreographer. “It’s probably the most beautiful instrument you could have.”
The Park & Recreation Department program serves 3,000 students annually, ages 3 to 91. Staff coordinates 180 weekly classes, from beginning to pre-professional levels, at more than 20 recreation centers across the City.
Program organizers said the classes are offered at affordable prices so that children and adults from all economic and cultural backgrounds can participate. Low-income fee waivers are available to those with household incomes below a certain level. If they qualify, the classes are free.
“The program is priced well below industry standards,” said Andrea Feier, a dance specialist with the Park & Recreation Department. “It’s a fabulous program.”
In addition to regular classes, students in the performing groups have the unique opportunity to learn from nationally recognized dance professionals.
In the 1980s, the San Diego Civic Dance Company was formed in response to a demand for youth activities in the arts. The Company is a performing group of 30 to 40 dancers, between 12 and 19 years old, who are admitted by audition. In addition to the Company, there are three other performing level groups. All dancers perform in an annual culmination of the year’s artistic work known as Collage.
“What we do in February with our performing level group is Collage – and it’s not a dance recital. It’s really an artistic concert dance performance,” said Feier. “We have a lot of artistic and creative energy that goes into making this show.”
For the upcoming 2017 Collage performance, the Company secured the rights to learn and perform a classic piece by José Limón, who is considered a pioneer in the field of modern dance and choreography.
Another guest choreographer Maud Arnold, of the Syncopated Ladies, has worked with dozens of artists and producers including Beyoncé. Daniel Lewis, the former Julliard instructor, is the founding dean of dance at the New World School of Arts in Miami. Both made space in their busy schedules to teach the students of the Civic Dance Arts program this summer.
“The joy in their face when I gave the movement that was challenging, and they got it, it was worth coming in just to teach that class,” said Lewis. “They gave me so much positive energy; more than I get from professional dancers.”
Learning the intricate movements of one of the most famous choreographers is no easy feat, yet the Company dancers tackle it with the discipline and enthusiasm of seasoned professionals.
“You simply don’t understand what it is until you come,” said Feier. “It’s a celebration of life. The comment I heard most often from people who come to the shows is that there was so much joy.”
That makes this year’s theme – joy – a perfect fit.