Site-specific Trolley Dances discovers new communities and audiences.

John Diaz and Zaquia Mahler Salinas in Trolley Dances

Free from the confines of a concert stage, Trolley Dances brings dance to unexpected places: swimming pools and grocery aisles, parking lots and historic parks, even the Mexican border fence. In its 17th year, the adventure created by San Diego’s pioneering choreographer Jean Isaacs is a community tradition, but it didn’t start out that way.

“I couldn’t afford a theater and wanted to pay my dancers,” Isaacs says. “Site-specific dance was an alternative. I partnered with the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. We go to different communities every year.”

Isaacs’ San Diego Dance Theater holds open auditions and hires about 50 dancers. They’ll dance six times daily along an expanding light-rail system over two weekends.

“We start at the new Waterfront Park next to the County Administration building,” she says. “Tour guides lead groups on the trolley to the Santa Fe Depot. For the first time, we’ll ride new Rapid buses and have sites in Balboa Park. It’s the park’s Centennial Celebration. Each dance is by a different choreographer responding to a physical environment.”

One of those choreographers in the park is Stephan Koplowitz, dean of the School of Dance at CalArts who has made site-specific work for decades. “I love the water-park fountain design,” he says, “how it invites the public to get wet. I’ll have 10 dancers to match the huge scale of the site and give the audience a different perspective.”

Along with Isaacs and Koplowitz, choreographers include Seattle’s Mark Haim (recently in San Diego with This Land is Your Land) and San Diegans Liv Isaacs-Nollet, Anne Gehman and Suzanne Forbes-Vierling.

As part of the event, Isaacs started Kids-on-Board 10 years ago, an outreach program that brings 550 students and teachers to Trolley Dances for free. “Magic happens when we take dance out of the theater,” Isaacs says. “It’s a field trip they won’t forget.” Before the performances (September 25 this year), schools host a residency program with San Diego Dance Theater on creating site-specific dance, and the dance created is performed for the entire school at an assembly.

The popularity of Trolley Dances has inspired spin-offs in San Francisco and more recently the city of Riverside. It takes place September 26–27 and October 3–4 in San Diego this year, with 3,000 people expected to attend. DT

Kris Eitland writes about dance and the performing arts from San Diego to San Francisco.

Photo by Manny Rotenberg, courtesy of San Diego Dance Theater

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Most dancers are taught from a young age that no matter what happens onstage, the show must go on! Costume rips? Don't stop dancing. Forget the choreography? Don't stop dancing. Fall down? Get back up, but for the love of all things holy, don't stop dancing!

Anna White, teacher and studio director at Melinda Leigh Performing Arts Center in Mobile, Alabama, breaks down how she conveys this message to her students.

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This month's winner is a lyrical piece to "Wounded Animal" by Mary Lambert, performed at the Turn It Up Dance Challenge. Before setting the movement, Ashley Zelano, choreographer and artistic director at the Fierce Dance Academy in New Castle, Delaware, took a cautious approach with the 11 teenage dancers. The song describes the despair felt in a relationship where one party can't fully commit. But she understood that her teenage students might not relate to what inspires her as an adult.

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Q: I'm looking to hire new instructors. How can I create a competitive job listing?

A: We've found the best way to attract qualified applicants for teaching positions at our studio is to be as specific as possible with our expectations, while communicating what makes our studio a great place to work.

Here's an example of a job description we've used when seeking teachers:

Lead Dance Instructor: Tap/Jazz/Contemporary; Choreography for Dance Teams.

Kathy Blake Dance Studios is seeking new instructors to join our faculty. Our performing arts school, located in the Souhegan Valley of New Hampshire, has an emphasis on excellence and love for the art of dance, with a student base aged 2 to adult. We pride ourselves on paying our teachers well, offering a professionally managed front office and fostering a sense of teamwork and collaboration among our staff.

We have an immediate opening for a dance instructor whose specialty is teaching intermediate to advanced tap, jazz and/or contemporary, as well as choreographing for competitive dance teams. We are seeking a creative, forward-thinking teacher who brings out the best in dancers. Schedule of 5 to 10-plus classes a week, based on availability. Position begins in August (or sooner, based on teacher availability). The school year runs from September through June. Pay is competitive and commensurate with experience and credentials.

Interested instructors: Please e-mail or reply to this ad with a current resumé and phone number, as well as what you love about teaching and what matters most to you in working for a dance studio.

Can't teach on our regular schedule? Please let us know if you'd like to be considered for our guest-artist master-class events.

Kathy Blake (Kathy Blake Dance Studios in Amherst, New Hampshire) and Suzanne Blake Gerety co-founded DanceStudioOwner.com.

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These four holiday dance videos are the break you need from the madness of the season. You'll laugh. You'll cry. You'll be recharged enough to dive back into another night of Nutcracker performances. (Yikes—hang in there guys!) Check 'em out, and share your favorite funny holiday dance videos with us on our Facebook page.

XOXO

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