The Santa Monica College Dance Department is something of a hidden gem in the dance education world. Under the guidance of Department Chair Judith Douglas, who has been teaching with the college since 1974, SMC’s dance program is characterized by an unusual combination of inclusivity, accessibility, and professionalism. “One of the things that makes us special is that dance is its own department at SMC,” explains Douglas. “This gives us the ability to design new courses and programs, led exclusively by dance faculty, to benefit our students.“
Dance students are also benefitting from the new 63,500 square feet state-of-the-art LEED Standard Core Performance Building. “The first-class, serious dance spaces allow us to take a grand jeté forward in serving the first-class, serious dancers,” says Douglas. The building cost about $35 million dollars and was funded by a bond measure. Creative funding mechanisms like the bond help keep SMC’s tuition exceptionally low and the program quality high. With enrollment fees of $46 or $84 per unit, it is one of the most affordable higher education institutes in the world.
“We strive to give anyone who wants it the chance to make dance the beautiful, vital part of life that it can be,” says Douglas. The department’s technique classes are open to all students and span from Levels 1 to 6, 1 being introductory and 6 being the most advanced. “We help adjust students’ level placements during the first week or so. This structure allows us to work with our students at the level and with the attention they need. Anyone can find classes that are a good fit.”
SMC also provides high caliber performance opportunities through Synapse Dance Theater Contemporary Dance Ensemble and Global Motion World Dance Company. Students must audition into either company. Each offers dancers the change to work with renowned choreographers and to perform for school and city audiences.
The Global Motion World Dance Company taps into another special characteristic of SMC’s dance education mission: to educate responsible global citizens. “We think it’s important for everyone, and particularly artists, to be both aware of what’s going on in the world and to know that they can and should be a positive force,” says Douglas. Lecture courses include the history of dance in American culture to help students understand the confluence of political and cultural influences that have shaped dance in this country—and how dance has been an important force in shaping these contexts. Courses in Mexican, Asian, African, Brazilian, and Middle Eastern dance styles are also available.
“Dance is global. Dance is viral. To truly appreciate it, you have to step back to understand its roots,” Douglas furthers. Dance also provides a rare, embodied perspective for understanding other cultures. Douglas points out that the dance department’s lecture classes provide an introduction to dance for students without a background in the art. “It helps us reach more students through different avenues,” she says. Additionally, the diverse populace and student body in Santa Monica inherently facilitate rich and open-minded cultural experiences and opportunities for learning and innovative expression.
SMC’s broad dance curriculum range also offers students the chance to prepare for diverse careers. Beyond performance and choreography, dancers have the opportunity to train for futures in teaching, creating dance for screen media, studio management, dance journalism, movement therapy, and more. “There have been so many big changes in the dance world over the years. One of our constant challenges is to anticipate and understand these changes and help our students be ready to enter the world. Our priorities now are preparing our students to address environmental and social issues creatively and providing foundations of technique to safely excel.”
Photo: SMC Dance Major Kozue Kasahara takes flight in SMC's new state-of-the-art studios at the Core Performance Center. Photo by Amy Gaskin.