Technique
Christopher Lam and Aria Gerking. Photo by Christian Peacock

In a spacious upstairs room in his San Francisco home, ballet teacher Christopher Lam gently holds on to an ironing board as he pliés, tendus and dégagés in his socks on the wood floor. He is leading students in a virtual ballet class on Zoom in light of the San Francisco Bay Area's shelter-in-place order that has closed the doors of every dance studio where Lam normally teaches. After a particularly speedy and challenging frappé exercise with fondus, he steps up to the camera and says, laughing, "Dancers, I think that one was a bit ambitious for home—juggling the slippery floor and ironing board."

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Studio Owners
Students and Studio Company dancers join Rawson on the steps of their new building, before social distancing became necessary for COVID-19. Photo by Daniel Garcia, courtesy of New Ballet

Silicon Valley Ballet announced in February 2016 that the company would close and file for bankruptcy. The closure included the school—and $250,000 in tuition money for the current school year and summer program was lost in the bankruptcy.

But the collapse could not take down Dalia Rawson, the school director. A survivor who had weathered the company's financial upheaval for years—and her own life-threatening illness—the bankruptcy didn't stop her.

Just two weeks after Silicon Valley Ballet closed, she incorporated a brand-new entity, New Ballet. What started as an effort to offer classes to the school's 250 students through the term they had already paid for turned into a fresh start for a school freed from a troubled company.

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When hip-hop choreographer Micaya took stock of the performance options for Bay area hip-hop dancers in the 1990s, she felt far from satisfied—and so she did something about it. Her International San Francisco Hip Hop DanceFest, the first festival dedicated specifically to hip hop, had its inaugural year in 1999. “I had seen the artistry,” says Micaya. “What was happening in the hip-hop dance world was incredibly impressive, but I didn’t see it being acknowledged as an art form. Other than battles and competitions, I’d never seen it honored on a stage.”

Now in its 15th year, the festival culls around one hundred submissions each year, from all over the US and as far away as Belgium, South Africa and the Philippines. Over three evenings this November, companies perform, master classes are held and hip-hop students and choreographers alike get the chance to network and share. Local companies that will perform this year include Micaya’s own SoulForce Dance Company, Academy of Villains, Funk Beyond Control, Loose Change, Mind Over Matter and Chapkis Dance Family.

“This festival started just as a springboard for the talent and sophistication I’d seen in hip hop, but it’s now become this world-wide convergence,” says Micaya. “When I get to finally sit down and watch the performances, I feel like I’ve been blessed.” See sfhiphopdancefest.com for tickets, the full list of performance artists, each night's program and group discounts.

Photo courtesy of Micaya

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