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Acclaimed SF ballet school trains dedicated aspiring dance artists

Mon, 01 Jul 2013 16:47:00
Article by:
Julie McCoy
For more than 30 years, Alonzo King LINES Ballet has helped people of different ages, backgrounds and abilities become better dancers and achieve their dance goals.

A contemporary ballet company at 26 7th street #5 in San Francisco, Alonzo King LINES Ballet has a dance facility known as the Alonzo King LINES Dance Center — AKDC. It also has a BFA Program in which it collaborates with Dominican University, a training program, a summer program and a Discovery Project. 

The Alonzo King Dance Center has six large studios that can be rented on either a short-term or a long-term basis. The center offers 80 classes a week for adult dancers of all levels, from beginner to professional.

Courses are offered in ballet, jazz, flamenco, modern dance and hip hop. Students have an opportunity to take classes from prominent dancers and choreographers at the center.

The dance center has been in existence since 1989, and it has been in its current location since 2002.

“I look at the dance center as being the anchor in our community here,” commented Executive Director Janette Gitler of the Alonzo King LINES Ballet. Approximately 300 people visit the dance center daily, according to Gitler. 

“For more than 50 percent of our dancers, this is their hobby,” explained Robin Anderson, who co-directs the Alonzo King LINES Dance Center. “A lot of dancers discover dancing later in life.”

Cecilia Perez first started coming to the dance center when she moved to San Francisco from Charlotte, N.C., almost four years ago. “Immediately after I settled down and started my new job, I started looking for a place where I could take dance classes,” Perez commented. “I am a trained ballet dancer, but my career was very short and ended — as it is often the case — pretty abruptly due to injuries. For over 20-plus years I stayed away from dance, just focusing on my career as a marketing /advertising professional.”

“But when I moved to San Francisco,” Perez continued, “I found a vibrant arts community, and it was contagious. I got inspired to reconnect with this part of my life, to rekindle my love for dance and connect with others passionate about this art form.”

After settling down in San Francisco, Perez made a list of the various dance schools in the area. She tried them all over a period of about two months. At the end of the process, it became clear to her that Alonzo King Dance Center was the best option in the city.

“Starting from practical matters, it is easily accessible from public transportation,” Perez noted. It occupies an old building, which offers not only a special flair and ambiance suited for a dance school, but also ample and open studios, full of light and positive energy. In addition, AKDC has the best dance teachers in town, and with good teachers comes a talented crowd of dancers.

“You get to enjoy an unmatched number of exceptional dance instructors, and learn not just from them, but the dancers and students that join the classes,” Perez continued. “To help illustrate the point, I take about three to four ballet classes a week, and I need not repeat a teacher if I so wish, which is pretty cool. I have options and the opportunity to learn from equally good instructors, each contributing different styles, steps, exercise, enriching my dance experience and helping me grow.”

Perez further noted, “Their company is also pretty accessible. I can take their morning professional class anytime. You do need to be an advanced ballet student to benefit from the class, but it is open to anyone. Rubbing shoulders with renowned dances, learning from their craft, and all the pleasure that comes from watching well-trained dancers move and perform. As far as I know this communal approach is unique of AKDC.

“Your dance experience is enhanced by the caliber of musicians that accompany the classes. They are delightful. Many of us often choose a class just for the joy of listening to these accomplished musicians play, and have the chance to move at the tune of their music.

Perez continued, “Last but not least, there is a very collegial atmosphere at AKDC — yet professional and very respectful. The staff is competent and helpful; they offer convenient tools to plan your classes and schedule your visits. Your feedback and comments are heard and acted upon. But above all, you get to make friends and feel part of a caring and inclusive community.

“There are things I would like to see change, and others they could improve on, Perez concluded. “Probably something you could say of any school/business. But to me, AKDC is now a second home, and I am very grateful and honored to be associated with them. They are the best that San Francisco has to offer.”

Alonzo King LINES Ballet’s BFA Program at Dominican University was launched in 2006. It takes place at the Department of Music, Dance and Performing Arts on the Dominican University campus in San Rafael, as well as at the dance studios of the Alonzo King Dance Center. 

The program gives serious students the opportunity to discover themselves as artists and human beings. It also provides a comprehensive education in the liberal arts — including specialized courses in dance history and music. Additionally, it provides a comprehensive curriculum that emphasizes ballet, complimented by extensive training in modern and other dance forms.

Additionally, Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet’s training program is a rigorous 2-year training experience for avid professional and pre-professional dancers between the ages of 17 and 24. Each year consists of 35 weeks, divided into two semesters. Participants work with a world-class faculty that includes past and present Alonzo King LINES Ballet company members, renowned Bay Area artists and notable guests from around the global.

Because the training program limits enrollment to 36 students, there is a high faculty-to-student ratio, allowing faculty to invest in each student.

The summer program is an intensive training experience designed for aspiring dancers ages 11–24. Young dancers are guided through a collaborative journey of artistic risk-taking and independent thinking, during which they are encouraged to explore, solve problems, express themselves with fluency, and realize their full potential.  Ballet is the core discipline. Students benefit from a high student-teacher ratio and a rigorous schedule that includes a minimum of 40 hours of dancing per week.

In 2013, Session 1 — geared to intermediate/advanced-level dancers ages 11-17 — is being held from June 16 to July 13, and Session 2 — geared to advanced-level/pre-professional dancers ages 17-24 — is being held July 16 to Aug. 18.

The Discovery Project, in existence since 2008, provides 3–5 day workshops for dancers in underserved communities in their own communities. These workshops target dancers who are age 13 or older, and at an intermediate to advanced level. All discovery projects are offered to dancers at a minimal cost of $40.

The ballet has a budget of $4.5 million, according to Gitler. The organization receives funding from the local and federal government, foundations, corporations and individuals. This year, it also received money from a gala that was held in honor of its 30th anniversary. The gala was so successful that the plan is to hold it again next year, according to Gitler.

About all that anyone needs to get involved in any program with the LINES Ballet is an interest in dance. Alonzo King LINES Ballet will take care of the rest. “We’re a very diverse organization,” Gitler commented. “We do an amazing job of reflecting our community. Our philosophy is — we want to be accessible in every way, in terms of location and the types of classes we offer.

“What we hope is that everyone feels welcome and when they leave, that they feel like returning to the LINES community, and that they get some exercise and are moved, both physically and emotionally. It’s very wonderful and I am proud of everything that we do.”

See http://www.linesballet.org/ for more information about the workshops and dance center.
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