Encore for South LA’s Dunbar Hotel

Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre helps revive a historic jazz landmark on Central Avenue.


Marisa Labog and Joe Schenck rehearse on the balcony in the lobby of Dunbar Village. | Christina Campodonico


By day, a “For Lease” sign hangs in the window of the Dunbar Hotel’s empty storefront on Central Avenue, but on Saturday night this barren room came to life as dancers from the Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre kicked up dust from the concrete floor, grabbed onto the room’s barred windows and clung to its steel columns, captivating a crowd of dance-lovers and community leaders who descended upon the historic South Los Angeles landmark to see “Dancing at Dunbar.”

Hours earlier, at 5 p.m., the troupe previewed its choreography for a handful of residents living at Dunbar Village, the affordable housing development on site with the Dunbar Hotel.

An air of easy comfort pervaded the lobby. Some audience members relaxed in large leather armchairs, nibbling on fruit and cookies. Others milled in and out of the lobby with their bikes and grocery bags, pausing briefly to look up at dancers Marisa Labor and Joe Schenck as they wrapped themselves around columns and bannisters on the second-level balcony overhead. [Read more…]

Dorsey High students dance into USC

imageListen to the audio story from Annenberg Radio News:

It’s Friday morning at Dorsey High School and second-year math teacher Edward Kusell-Zigelman (better known as Ed KZ) is about to start a class that has nothing to do with adding or subtracting.

“One of my coordinators proposed the idea to me last year to teach any elective I wanted. She said we have this empty space, empty class, what do you wanna teach?” he said.

For KZ, the choice was easy. He’s a member of Break-On 2, the University of Southern California’s premiere salsa performance group. So KZ started a Partner Dance Class at Dorsey last fall and it’s open to students of all shapes and sizes. That is good news for athletes like Jovonte Warren, who says that when his friends hear Jovonte is in dance class “they laugh because I’m freakishly tall and when they come here to see, everybody else is short.”

KZ’s Partner Dance Class makes Dorsey High one of the only schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District to have an organized dance class. But dancing isn’t the only thing the class teaches.

“This class in particular is something special for the kids, not just because it’s the arts but because it’s partner dance,” KZ said. “So what’s really neat and unique about this class and would be at any program at any high school is that they’re really learning how to socialize with each other.”

Whether it is dancing the tango, doing the cha cha, or shuffling to the salsa, KZ emphasizes the importance of social etiquette and mutual respect.

“It’s been pretty cool, I kinda opened up as a person. I used to be kinda like shy and stuff but now, dance… it helps me like be able to walk up to a person and make conversation,” said Shelton Sanders, a senior who says Partner Dance has helped him open up his social life.

“Mr. KZ came in and asked us about the dance team and he said it was with girls so I was like ‘Yeah, this is awesome!’”

Girls aren’t the only attractive aspect of the course. The Dorsey students get to interact with USC students and alumni through a mentorship program set up by KZ, a USC graduate of 2010. The High Schoolers recently visited USC to perform in USC’s Break-On 2 salsa club. Armand Jordan said the experience helped get him excited about attending college this fall.

“Through this program I was able to go to USC for one of the first times and meet some of the college students and listen to some of their experiences,” Jordan said. “It’s definitely made me want to go to college.”

Almost all of the Partner Dance students are college bound and we’re not talking about your average two-year community college. Many Partner Dance students are headed to prestigious universities such as UCLA, USC, and Stanford.

But KZ’s mentorship program doesn’t just benefit the students of partner dance.

Erika Soto graduated USC in 2011 and she mentors the Partner Dance students every week at Dorsey High School.

“Every student has a USC college mentor and we basically write to each other back and forth,” Soto said. “I feel like we’re making a really great impact on their lives. We’re really influencing them in a positive way and it also reminds me of who I’m trying to be and keeps me motivated to stay in a positive path and move forward in a positive direction.”

The Partner Dance class will return to USC this spring for another performance, this time at Bovard Auditorium for the Break-On 2 Showcase April 19th.

Central Avenue Dance Ensemble educates and entertains

Central Avenue Dance Ensemble founder Chester Whitmore

Central Avenue remains synonymous with L.A.’s thriving jazz and rhythm and blues scene of the mid twentieth century.

Luminaries like Lionel Hampton and Charles Mingus defined the sounds emanating from the heart of the African-American community.

Enter Central Avenue Dance Ensemble, founded in 2003 by celebrated dancer Chester Whitmore.

“A long time ago we used to be inside of a church on 62nd and Normandie, and it had a giant ballroom in it. We used to do this thing called ‘Swinging in the Hood’ once a month, and do ballroom and swing with a live big band.”

Chester Whitmore is a choreographer, instructor, historian and musician who has played with the Count Basie Orchestra. His company Black Ballet Jazz specialized in Afro-American vernacular dance and toured the world for 15 years.

“One of the amazing things about Chester is he’s not just into teaching you dance steps, but also the history,” said Central Avenue’s Managing Director Ron Parker. “Where this happened? Who was involved?”

One of Central Avenue Dance Ensemble’s proudest accomplishments is a revival of a two-hour, multimedia show, “The History of Black Dance in America.” The first act opens in Africa and then journeys to the New World, and by the time the curtain closes we’ve seen dances from the early 1800s to the present day. Some of these dances include Walking the Dog in the early 1900s, Lindy Hop in the ‘30s, Big Apple in the ‘40s, Swing in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, and one of my favorites, Charleston in the 1920s.

Whitmore points to popular TV shows like “Dancing With the Stars” and “America’s Best Dance Crew” for spurring a renewed interest in dance. “You have to have the new stuff, but they got to know where it comes from,” he said. “We have to tell them about a foundation.,”

Central Avenue Dance Ensemble performs for high schools, hosts workshops and residencies and offers classes and demonstrations.

Just dance: Cali jerk

By QueJonne Smith, Frederick Douglass Academy High School

There’s a new trend that has skyrocketed in the last few summers: dancing. There has been a host of new dances since the summer of 2009: (different variations of) The Jerk, The Reject, the Spongebob, The Pindrop, the Drop Kick, The Dougie, the D-Town boogie, and a range of other dances that keeps the teenage and juniors crowd interested and engrossed in the growing fashion.

Let me teach you how to jerk.

The Jerk: There are many different ways that people have taken the jerk and made it their own. They have taken the original jerk, where you bend your knees and begin to pop up and down in a jerking motion, and put their own spin on it. They have put different hand motions, flips, head movements, and dropping to the floor and coming back up in order to make the dance better in appearance.

The Reject/ Spongebob: The Reject is the new dance that resembles the backwards “Running Man” has been added to a variety of footwork and drops that make the dance better. The Spongebob is best described as the sideways reject that can be combined with the reject, jerk, and other dances to make the combination appealing to their audience.

The Pin Drop: This dance requires the dancer to place his/her foot behind the knee of the other leg and fall onto that foot in order to pivot and spin around in order to stand back up. This dance can lead into any of these other dances.

The Drop Kick: This dance can be accompanied by a host of footwork that can make the dance a part of another combination.

Combining it all is like a freestyle that you can put together on the dance floor.