Eight dancers make it to the Kennedy Center

It takes a special type of person to become a dancer. They devote their time to become a model of strength and focus. With so much sacrifice, the payoff can be tremendous.

For eight students in Cal State Fullerton’s dance program, their dedication has landed them a spot to perform in the American College Dance Festival at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

“It was a huge, huge honor,” said Gladys Kares, director of the dance program at CSUF.

Thirty schools were selected through 11 regional conferences. CSUF — along with Stanford University — was chosen from the western conference to perform.

Kares and fellow faculty members, Debra Lockwood and Debra Noble, will be joining the students for the event.

As the dancers prepare for the Kennedy Center performance, the mixed emotions start to set in.

“I feel very honored to be one of the few that has the opportunity to represent our school at a national level,” said Elyse Mottaz, a dance major. “I am also very nervous and anxious to go. As a group, we have been working for several months to make sure this piece was competition worthy and it seemed that our hard work paid off.”

While in Washington, D.C., students will be able to take classes in ballet and modern dance from guest artists from around the country. Classes will start in the morning and last until the evening.

Every night, there will be public concerts and a gala concert will be performed on the last night. The performers in the gala concert will be chosen by a panel of judges.

On top rehearsals for the Kennedy Center, the students also have their regular dance curriculum workload.

“The better you are, the more you are involved in the program,” said Kares. “Their first class is at 9 a.m. and they usually leave at 11 p.m. We don’t let them stay later. The door is hitting their butt at 11 p.m.”

Melanie Hansel, a dance major, knew that dance would be involved in her life and make her the person she is today.

“I always knew that, through one manner or another, I would need to keep dancing throughout my entire life. I decided that pursuing a career in dance would help to fulfill my passion and desire to express myself freely in ways that are challenging yet all the worthwhile,” said Hansel.

The dance program is different from other departments and degrees offered at CSUF. The dancer’s life is one of auditions.

In order to become part of the program, a student must audition. To move up one of the four levels that the program offers, they must audition again.

“It’s a class. At least all the full-time faculty will be watching and (will) give feedback. It’s pretty intense … it’s like a huge final,” said Kares.

Students in the program are taught everything from the history of dance to kinesiology.  The program wants to encompass something that the students can take with them after they graduate.

Sarah Mottaz, a dance major, wants to continue in the field of dance and continue to hone her dance skills.

“I plan on auditioning for dance jobs and companies in the area and to always continue my technical training. Other students want to possibly go back for their master’s (degree) in dance,” said Hansel.

While friends and acquaintances are made, the Theatre and Dance Department carries a special relationship that beyond just being classmates.

Tracy Bernardo, 21, another dancer major, said, “I think the best thing about the department, is the connection within the department and the family feeling everyone feels … We go through so much together, and I feel so lucky to be apart of this department.”

Special connections seem to resonate through all the dancers and their appreciation of classmates and faculty members.

“The teachers are fantastic. They really make the effort to help each student understand fully and improve personally during their journeys at the school … and the fact that I have gotten the opportunity to perform at so many different places has been such a blessing,” said Hansel.

Kares feels only pride when she speaks of her students.

“I am just really, really proud of our students. Even the teachers at the festival remarked on their spirit and commitment,” said Kares.

Bernardo believes this program wouldn’t be the way it is without the support of the department’s teachers and faculty.

About Maegan Castro-Flores