San Diego Youth Dance Program Hasn't Skipped A Beat
After fifteen years without a permanent home, local youth dance nonprofit TranscenDANCE settles down with a new, future space and a digital production, "Home Within A Home."
A few months before the pandemic, San Diego nonprofit TranscenDANCE Youth Arts Project decided on their theme for 2020: home. And in December of 2019, they received long-awaited news of a new space in Lemon Grove. Little did they know that home would take on new meaning for everyone this year.
"I really love that the show theme and TranscenDANCE finding a long term home just sort of played out in this woven way," said Cat Corral, TranscenDANCE cofounder and artistic/executive director.
The local creative youth development group runs intensive dance programs, afterschool and in-school activities at Title 1 schools and other community outreach programming for ages 10 to 24, often in underserved communities.
One of their anchor programs is the CREATE team, where young dancers in middle and high school commit to multiple years of intensive training, choreography, performance and socio-emotional enrichment.
Generally, CREATE students train three times per week on-site, and spend the summer in intensive camps, honing their skills and leadership and working with TranscenDANCE's staff counselors. During the pandemic, the group adapted, but didn't skip a beat.
"It speaks to the resilience of our community, and that's artists being willing to try something new and figure out how to share their craft through a computer screen, and that’s the resilience of our young people being persistent with the technology challenges," Corral said. "And it's the resilience of our staff and our board to say, 'Okay, the way we've been doing things is not relevant at this moment in time. How are we going to adapt?'"
TranscenDANCE transformed their curriculum into videos used throughout San Diego Unified School District, and soon will be used in Lemon Grove schools, too. They expanded the hours of their therapists so the services were accessible to more of their students.
They also shifted dance classes online, and beginning in October they added outdoor classes in Kimball Park in National City, just steps from their previous home on the A Reason To Survive (ARTS) property. Their culminating CREATE performance — generally held at the Lyceum Theatre — has also been transformed into an hour-long film production.
Much of the choreography was taught over Zoom during the summer. The students were relieved to see each other in person when they gathered to film the CREATE performance, and when outdoor park classes began in October — from six feet away with masks on.
Remote classes added extra challenges, beyond issues of access. Lag time made it difficult to dance together, and it took until the first in-person park rehearsal for them to realize that it wasn't intuitive to mirror or directly mimic the choreographer's movements on screens. In a dance studio, dancers can watch and copy the choreographer by watching the front of the room, the wall of mirrors, or the other dancers around them.
For students, the community and connections found in an intensive dance program like TranscenDANCE are as critical as having access to creative expression, advanced instruction and physical activity — benefits that sustained the group the past eight months of the pandemic.
The latest CREATE program, "Home Within A Home," features nine works of original contemporary choreography, interspersed with short interviews with the dancers. One of the works includes original music by David's Harp Foundation, which works with homeless and underserved youth. The group wrote and recorded a song called "Six Feet Away."
Self-expression of identity and resilience is integral to TranscenDANCE's model, and several pieces include the use of literary effects. One includes a collection of spoken word pieces the dancers wrote themselves about the role of women in their homes. Another work is a collaboration on Black bodies with spoken word artist Miesha Rice, choreographed by Dr. Grace Jun.
The film streams in two ticketed performances this weekend, Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.
As for the new space, construction is underway. The space is double what they've had in the past, with dedicated offices for therapy, studio space to support emerging artists and creative projects, a community kitchen and even a performance space. It's part of an affordable housing unit, and situated near the Lemon Grove trolley station.
Corral said the studio may be ready before the community is able to use it, however.
"Construction will actually be done by the end of January, so the funny and weird part of this is that our home will be built but we don't know if we can bring students in," Corral said. "The students and families we work with are sometimes living in multigenerational households, they're coming from communities hit hardest by the pandemic."
Until the space is open, they'll continue finding virtual and careful outdoor ways to share community and find home.