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Creative Ways to Move This Summer
by Nirmala Nataraj on Aug 19, 2004
With the subtle sting of almost-summer in San Francisco, there's a new buzz in the air. It's the kind of feeling that makes me thirsty for movement, that makes me desire the 2-3-4-lift of salsa dancing and bored with the uncoordinated languor of club land. Most people plan vacations to fairer climes around this time of year; I, on the other hand, pursue my obsession with dance classes. People haven't figured out why this takes place in seasonal spates; admittedly, it has more than a little to do with being painfully conscious of the unveiling of washboard abs and bikini legs, which are all over the place at even the faintest twinkle of a sunbeam. I'm not fond of diets or working to look good, but dancing is second nature to me. And luckily, I have many options from which to choose:
Dance Mission is one of the Mission District's best kept secrets. Tucked away in an enclave on 24th Street, it doubles as a contemporary dance/theater company and dance class studio. Founded in 1984 by artistic directors Krissy Keefer and Nina Fichter, the organization's creative offerings are equaled by its staunch support for grassroots performing arts and progressive causes. It's an eclectic place where movement and cultural understanding go hand and hand. Their most exciting offerings are classes in Afro-Cuban folkloric dance, Bomba, and breakdancing and urban dance movement. Afro-Cuban folkloric dance is derived from a number of ritualistic practices; and high-energy dances like Yoruba, Vodu, and Rhumba have their origins in god and goddess worship. The spirited accompaniment of live drumming kicks it up a notch. In turn, Bomba is a flirtatious Puerto Rican dance with origins in the cultural expressions that issued from slavery. Communities in Puerto Rico embrace different forms of the dance, which ranges from flamenco-style footwork to African-style movement. Like Afro-Cuban dance, Bomba's call and response relationship between dancer and drummer makes for a vigorous and engaging hour of movement. Finally, dance teacher Skorpio leads the breakdancing and urban movement classes, which teach the techniques of breakin', poppin', lockin', and boogaloo, to name a few. According to Skorpio, "It's time that hip hop dancers understand that single style dancing has passed…combining all styles is a must." It's a philosophy that's continuously played out in Dance Mission's offerings, which can be enjoyed at a mere $11 per class.
Rhythm and Motion, in the SOMA, offers a similar array of eclectic classes for adults and youth, including their dance-based workout program, Fusion Rhythms, which blends jazz, hip-hop, and Brazilian dance for strength and alignment. With locations in their Mission Street studio, the Women's Building on 19th Street, the Bernal Heights Gym, and the Harvey Milk Recreation Center, Rhythm and Motion offers an all-inclusive, non-competitive environment for dancers at all levels. Classes in African diaspora dance, flamenco, and international tribal dance are among their most popular offerings. Their international tribal dance classes are led by Jill Parker, the founder of Ultra Gypsy, a company specializing in innovative belly dance. Described as a fascinating fusion of dance and fire, shaman and drag queen, Medusa and machine, Parker's Wednesday night classes weave together movement across cultures and traditional Middle Eastern dance. Another special event that occurs at Rhythm and Motion on Wednesday and Sunday nights is their Barefoot Boogie, an improvisational dance jam that lets everyone move "like no one is watching you." Don't miss their summer special: four classes for just $32!
Finally, for everyone who wants to drag their boyfriend or girlfriend to a night of partner dancing, Metronome Ballroom is the way to go. Voted "Best Place to Learn to Dance" by the San Francisco Bay Guardian and SF Weekly, the Metronome features lessons in standard ballroom styles: Lindy Hop, Argentine Tango, Swing, Foxtrot, Waltz, Cha Cha, Salsa, Merengue, West Coast Swing, and more. With group classes, workshops, and parties, the Metronome has a vibrant selection of fun events that breaks the monotony of the typical class atmosphere. And unlike the obnoxious tenet of most partner dancing classes that unilaterally pairs women with men, Metronome offers a plethora of same-sex classes for those so inclined. A good recommendation for beginners is the studio's Metro-Toning class, which utilizes principles of ballet and yoga and helps develop body awareness, which can then be applied to other classes. For everyone interested in moving beyond the amateur league, celebrated expert Diane Jarmolow offers a comprehensive teacher training that most of the instructors at Metronome came out of. Drop-in classes are usually $15, and classes taken in month-long series range from $60 to $100.
Time is always an issue, but how can I afford not to save Tuesday nights for Tango Practica? My summer vanity is counting on it, as are my feet. So go ahead - I dare you, bikini girls. Put me on the dance floor, and you'll certainly have someone to contend with.
by Nirmala Nataraj on Aug 19, 2004