San Diego hosts a network of dance companies and studios filled with nationally and internationally acclaimed dancers and choreographers adept in styles from tap to jazz, modern to contemporary, ballroom to ballet, hip-hop to Irish dance. One of the best parts of this, besides a night out to take in a professional performance, is that many of them offer classes to the public in order to share their passion, and the benefits of dance, with those of all levels and ages.
2650 Truxtun Road #108, Liberty Station
Attending UCSD anytime in the 25 years of Jean Isaacs’s tenure with the school’s Department of Theatre and Dance, from which she retired in 2007, meant you most likely saw her take on modern choreography via her world-renowned works and teachings on campus. The general public might recognize her as the originator of the annual Cabaret Dances performed at San Diego Museum of Art and the site-specific Trolley Dances. Since 1997, however, she has been acting as artistic director of San Diego Dance Theater and has since taken over managing nearby performance space White Box.
What this means for us is that she curates a dance company that not only produces beautiful works to feast upon, but also offers exceptional and beautifully taught classes to the public. Dance Fierce is their hip-hop and modern dance after-school program for teens, while multiple styles of beginning and intermediate classes for seniors (60+) are offered for a mere $5. Beginner level contemporary classes with Anne Gehman are suggested for those new to dance, and for those more adventurous, there’s SubtleBodyBigDance — a class unique to San Diego taught by Kyle and Gina Sorenson. Open to all levels, this modern class is based on the dancers’ own decades of experience and intensive personal research of the Gaga technique while in Israel.
4255 Ruffin Road #200, Tierrasanta
Many know Mary Murphy as the incredibly positive, enthusiastic judge and choreographer on Fox’s dance competition/reality show So You Think You Can Dance. Many may not know that Murphy is an accomplished competitive ballroom dancer who opened Champion Ballroom Academy in 1990, now seen as a cultural landmark in its Hillcrest community. Since retired as a competitive dancer herself, Murphy has accumulated some film credits, headlined a Broadway dance show, regularly serves as a judge for ballroom competitions, currently organizes a successful dance competition, and even created a dance program for underprivileged children.
All of this has helped Murphy to grow and expand her academy to include many world-class champions as staff and guest instructors — the “stars” on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, and past winners and finalists from So You Think You Can Dance. Regardless of the star power on her staff or the skill level of the dancer, Murphy wants students to “feel a sense of comfort and community during their own dance journey.” Beginning classes in salsa and cha-cha seem to be the crowd favorites along with Dan’s couples class.
3980 30th Street, North Park
Although founded in 1972, Stage 7 School of Dance has been running under the direction of Kathryn Irey since 1983. Irey has not only danced with the Deutsche Ballett am Rhein, one of Germany’s top ballet companies, but is also an accomplished and highly respected arts educator, researcher, and collaborator.
She instructs her staff to utilize the “three points of entry” while teaching: the mind (auditory), body (visually), and spirit (emotionally) to better accommodate differences in the way individuals learn. Irey wants dancers to feel confident and powerful, no matter what their level of experience.
Primarily a ballet studio, various international classes are offered such as Capoeira, Afro-Cuban, and West African dance. For something different, try classes with Heather Stants, a pioneer in tribal fusion belly dancing. For those new to dance, it’s best to go to the source and take Irey’s Adult Pre-Ballet class. She has lovingly nicknamed this class “Bonehead”, because in Irey’s eyes, everyone can learn the art of dance.
2650 Truxtun Road, Suite 202, Point Loma
After an impressive career of performing on film, in television, internationally with Twyla Tharp’s dance company, and even sharing a stage with Baryshnikov, six-time Emmy Award–winning choreographer John Malashock started his own modern dance company —Malashock Dance — in 1988. Malashock Dance School opened in 2007, with the hopes of creating a stronger connection to the community while still reflecting the values of the company.
Truly a great place for the younger ones to explore their creative side, the school also offers adult classes with highly accomplished instructors. Recommended are beginner modern classes with Erica Buechner and Molly Puryear, who also head up their education department. Classes with Khamla Somphanh, former lead dancer in the Broadway revival and first national tour of The King and I, is a wonderful option for more advanced modern dancers.
5120-C Baltimore Drive, La Mesa
Academy of Performing Arts was founded in 1993 when Kevin Patterson, having an extensive professional career in the performing arts himself, approached musical theatre college friend Liam Harney, a world champion Irish step dancer with an equally impressive résumé. From there, the duo choreographed the musical CelticFusion, described by Harney as the “American answer to Riverdance,” utilizing APA dancers and touring the United States, South America, and Australia. The APA faculty grew to include many professional dancers and instructors of all styles of performing arts while, atypically, including companies-in-residence into the mix.
The academy has since become a place where dancers can expand their knowledge of dance and other performing arts, while learning how to turn dance into a career. Despite being a springboard into the professional world, the studio has maintained an open environment where even those not interested in joining the professional ranks can learn to enjoy all levels and styles of dance.