2016-12-09 / Schools

Dancers of fledgling ensemble strut their stuff

Simi Valley High hosts inaugural showcase
By Michael Aushenker


MAKING THEIR MOVES—Above, Makenna Fox and, at right, a dance ensemble perform Saturday during the Simi Valley High School Dance Team Showcase. The dancers are part of a zero period class at the high school, meeting at 7 a.m. to choreograph routines set to a variety of musical styles. MAKING THEIR MOVES—Above, Makenna Fox and, at right, a dance ensemble perform Saturday during the Simi Valley High School Dance Team Showcase. The dancers are part of a zero period class at the high school, meeting at 7 a.m. to choreograph routines set to a variety of musical styles. After hosting its first showcase over the weekend, Simi Valley High School’s dance team is one step closer to becoming a full-fledged elective program.

The Dec. 3 showcase sprang from teacher Jennifer Christman’s nascent dance ensemble, a zero-period class that meets daily at 7 a.m.

“They have insane talent and passion for what they do, but they’ve never had an outlet in school (before now),” Christman said of her dance students.

In addition to being a math teacher at SVHS for eight years, Christman has taught dance in Simi for 14 years — five at the now-defunct Patsy Swayze Dance Studio and nine at Gotta Dance Academy, where she still teaches.


Photos by BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers Photos by BOBBY CURTIS/Acorn Newspapers Officially called dance ensemble class, the team is made up of 52 ninth- through 12thgrade girls with mixed levels of experience.

“Knowing that the students are in charge of creating the choreography and seeing how often they come out (with new pieces) is impressive,” said Simi High Principal Dean May. “They’re working hard. They push themselves.”

Last year the dance team was a club that met on Sundays. With efforts by May and the school’s counseling staff, the ensemble was able to get approval from the district to give the class a P.E. credential.

May said school staff members are interested in doing anything they can that will allow students to enjoy their interests, follow their passions and receive credit for it.

Dance ensemble is not about taking lessons but about assembling choreography, Christman said.

PIONEERING CLASS—Bella Silecchio performs with her classmates during a dance showcase at Simi Valley High on Dec. 3. This is the first year the dance ensemble class has been offered at the school. PIONEERING CLASS—Bella Silecchio performs with her classmates during a dance showcase at Simi Valley High on Dec. 3. This is the first year the dance ensemble class has been offered at the school. The students design their own moves set to hip-hop, tap, contemporary jazz, musical theater and holiday music.

“During football season we were learning one (routine) a week,” Christman said. “Going forward, it has to remain a zero period because all of us have extensive dance schedules outside of school.”

But that doesn’t mean the class can’t one day expand into a multi-period program.

While the class is open to all students, no boys have joined the program yet. The only boy to interact with the ensemble has been Isaac Hannans, a Hollow Hills Elementary 10-year-old who created his own hip-hop choreography for Saturday’s showcase. Isaac is not enrolled in the SVHS class and did not receive school credit for his participation in the event.

Working together

Last weekend the dance team put on a two-hour show.

“(We did) our best to turn our gym into a performing arts center,” said Christman, whose personal highlight was a number that showed childhood photos of the senior dancers.

Overall, the inaugural presentation went smoothly, Christman said, selling 220 tickets.

The high ticket sales basically guarantee the showcase will become an annual event, she said.

“It’s only going to get better,” the teacher said.

Bella Silecchio and Daryn Berger, both 17-year-old seniors, are two of the dance team’s students.

Bella taught hip- hop at Simi Dance Center for two years, choreographing numbers for kids.

For the showcase, she served as main choreographer, sequencing a hip-hop piece set to Sean Paul’s “Temperature,” Rihanna’s “Pon de Replay” and Travis Scott’s “Pick Up the Phone.”

Bella danced in the number with a few girls (including Daryn) and choreographed three other routines to tracks by Beyonce, Missy Elliott and Drake.

“I really enjoy having it as zero period,” Bella said of the class. “I wake up happier because I go to dance. It’s a fun way to start the day.”

Christman said she has seen petty rivalries between girls from different dance studios before, but in her class the students lay such conflicts aside.

“The students really work together. The experienced girls help the ( less experienced) girls,” the teacher said.

“It’s a great environment,” said Daryn, who’s been performing since age 3 and is president of the dance team. “We are from all different studios in Simi Valley, but it’s crazy how one goal can bring us all together.”

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