Free Dance Classes Increase Our Dance Literacy

By Renée Rothman

Saturday afternoon could not have been more beautiful in downtown Santa Cruz. Flowers in bloom everywhere, live music playing, sidewalk sales, and FREE DANCE CLASSES! Sponsored by NDWSC as part of the week-long celebration of dance, the classes were held in the Sentinel parking lot in the mid-day heat. I attended three of these 45 minute classes: Mambo with Michael Mpyngu, Dance of Brazil with Marsea Marquis, and Tahitian Dance with Lorraine Kinnamon. My legs still ache.

Mambo at the Sentinel

Mambo, a forerunner of salsa and sometimes called Salsa-on-2, is a partnered dance and once you get the basic footwork its pretty easy to have fun with it. Especially if you have a really good partner. There were not nearly as many experienced partners as novices, but they did their best to get around to all of us. As leaders, they were so smooth, they made dancing feel as natural as walking (well, almost).

Samba at the Sentinel

Marsea Marquis samba class was really challenging. As I’ve mentioned before, I am always impressed by the speed at which these dancers move. I myself was not built for speed but became so infected with the rhythmic joy her students demonstrated on Thursday night, that I had to make an attempt. Marsea taught a fairly elaborate choreography breaking it down step by step and increasing the speed as gently as possible. Just when we thought we were up to full speed, she asked “Can we take it up a notch?” and we all grumbled “No!” But we did it anyway. Near the end, she said to us that the only way to keep up is to give in to the rhythm and let our bodies shake with abandon. I tried it: It worked! I’ve never danced so fast in my life.

Hula at the Sentinel

I saved a little energy for Lorraine’s Tahitian class by sitting down for ten minutes. She began with a little Hawaiian hula which is soft and breezy, before turning to Tahitian. Tahitian moves the hips faster…much faster. She taught us a piece of choreography she learned on one of her visits to Tahiti and while we didn’t look all that graceful, we managed to get through it. Much of the Polynesian style is very subtle: the way the feet roll off the ground, the soft shape of the hands, and the bend in the knees provide it with the feel of the islands.

There are a whole week of free classes offered all over Santa Cruz and I strongly recommend you take one or two. Pick something you’ve always wanted to try or that you love to watch or that one of your children studies. As audience members, we can benefit by taking even a single class. It puts you inside the form providing you with intimate knowledge of the art.

The primary sensory experience of dance is kinesthetic. Even as watchers, we experience the kinesthetics of dance by relating what we see to our own experiences in movement, whether in dance or in ordinary activities. When we see a ballet dancer balance on one pointe shoe, we automatically remember our own abilities to balance and empathize with the ballerina. We appreciate the difficulty of her task because we know about balance empirically. Kinesthetic empathy is a natural ability, an innate form of intelligence, but we can increase our sensitivity as witnesses to dance by engaging in it ourselves: by educating our own kinesthestic sense.  Become a smarter dance aficionado; participate in one of the many freebies available to you this week. Maybe I’ll see you there.

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