MODESTO - From melodic waltzes to the ab-curving belly dance, Modesto Junior College’s Theatre and Dance Department offers a unique assortment of dance classes for keeping the beat.
Unlike other dance studios, MJC’s program focuses on dance as an artistic and cultural expression rather than an extracurricular activity.
“Performing dance gives us a sense of what our own bodies are capable of doing,” said MJC Dance Program Coordinator and Professor Lori Bryhni. “Most students are always looking for a release, and dance is perfect for staying physically active. If you ask any of the dancers on campus, it puts them in a world separate from physical and mental stresses.”
For most of these students, dance is a vital expression of their psyche. The Theatre program at MJC is designed to prepare students to work in professional settings utilizing costumes, bodily expressions, and even onstage mis-en-scene.
In the past, dance often incorporated the element of storytelling to convey emotions through choreography, allowing bodies to manipulate in conjunction with the melody.
“Choosing dance as a career is not an easy path,” said MJC dance alum Marte Madera. “There are ups and downs. It’s the ups that will keep you going. In the field of dance, you can face every type of emotion and all kinds of experiences.”
Many students are drawn to Modesto Junior College dance for the wide variety of cultures represented and the professional instructors.
“We offer technique classes in Modern, Ballet, Jazz and World Dance, which also combines history,” said Bryhni. “We even have a choreography class for students to choreograph their own dances. We try to run all the bases in our programs.”
Some of the instructors, including Gay Grant, director of the California Ballroom Company, and Heidi and Xavier Gomez, have been teaching dance for over 13 years, and have won global dance competitions throughout their careers. Some of the dance classes offered include: Takes Two to Tango, Cha-Cha, Swing Party Dances, Rumba, Foxtrot, Merengue, Bachatango, the Waltz and the Night Club Two-Step.
MJC also hopes to diverge from common line-stepping in order to incorporate African Caribbean Dance Classes, which focus on intoxicating rhythms with live drumming accompaniment. Dancers will be influenced by African, Cuban and Caribbean traditions and songs that will incorporate every part of the body.
Belly Dancing has also become one of the most popular art forms within the dance community in the last few years. MJC’s class offers a “melting pot of different styles of belly dance set to worldly and American music,” according to instructor Sierra Wigington.
She teaches aspects of Folkloric, Cabaret, and American Tribal Style in her lessons and attempts to show her students how to isolate the chest and hips into graceful postures.
Most of the classes are under $70 for the six-week program. Modesto Junior College also offers a variety of kid-friendly classes and activities, and beginner dance for non students through its Community Education program. MJC also performs “Jam ‘n Jive” concerts every spring for local high schools, which highlight a variety of students’ work.
“Everything is very integrated,” said Wigington, a former dancer with the Backstage Academy of Dance in Turlock. “I kind of found what I was missing in my life through dance.”
— BROOKE BORBA / The 209