The Department of Theatre and Dance at California State University, Dominguez Hills gained a distinction in the world of collegiate dance. It served as the host of the inaugural Baja Region Conference of the American College Dance Festival Association (ACDFA). Nearly 400 faculty and students from Northern, Southern California, Nevada, and Arizona colleges and universities took part in the conference from March 23 through 26 on campus
Professor and coordinator of the CSU Dominguez Hills dance program Doris Ressl, who served as the conference organizer, said the newly established ACDFA Baja Region was created to accommodate a need in the organization’s expanding Southwest Region, in which the university had previously participated.
“There had been 10 regions in the ACDFA. Our region was so big in California, they split us into two regions,” said Ressl.
Ressl described the conference as a celebration of dance in higher education that included a wide variety of master classes, opportunities for student and faculty exchanges, adjudication and information concerts, feedback sessions, and a gala concert.
“The opportunity to receive feedback on choreography and performance is integral to every ACDFA conference,” Ressl said, who has been planning the conference for the past year.
Throughout the four-day event students participated in master dance classes taught by prominent dance professionals, performed and received valuable feedback from adjudicators, and auditioned for scholarships to participate in the organization’s American Dance Festival, a six-week summer workshop.
For the conference, Rebecca Ledesma, a senior kinesiology major with an emphasis in dance, adapted “Once Upon Aurora’s Dream,” a piece based on “Sleeping Beauty” that she choreographed for the CSU Dominguez Hills spring 2011 dance concert. Ledesma also danced the piece, along with her classmates Marie Bahner, Sonia Bawa, Keondra Bell, Brianna Colón, Jennifer Escobar, Sarah McKinnon, Ronisha Roberts, and Tinaiya Tank. Going into the conference, she said her goal was to get faculty feedback, to be considered to perform at the national festival, and to share her work in the art of dance.
”The adjudicators spoke to the dancers [from the University Theatre stage] after all the performances were over. They took notes during the performances and critiqued the dances anonymously; they didn’t know which schools they were judging,” said Ledesma, adding that they said her piece fused ballet and modern dance well and that it has potential to be developed into a complex stage show.
In addition to providing dance students with an opportunity to build their resumes and future opportunities in their dance careers, Ressl said hosting the ACDFA conference provided exposure for the CSU Dominguez Hills dance program.
“I feel the festival put CSU Dominguez Hills on the map. People are aware that our university is here; we have a dance program, and we have quality facilities to accommodate visitors, such as the student union and our beautiful library,” said Ressl.
Visiting dance programs also benefited from the conference.
Theatre arts major Sonia Bawa, who helped Ressl coordinate the event, said, “This conference elevates the status of every school that is involved. For any dance and theatre program, participating in a regional conference, with a national association, increases the credibility of that program.”
About 30 colleges and universities participated in this year’s conference, including the University of Alaska; University of Hawaii; University Nevada, Las Vegas; Arizona State University; Portland Community College; and 22 California institutions including El Camino College; CSU, Los Angeles; CSU Long Beach; and University of California, Irvine.
Ressl said the conference was as much of a learning experience for the professional dance instructors who attended. Comparing teaching a master class at a dance conference to presenting a paper at an academic conference, Ressl said, through master classes, instructors contribute to research in their field–dance and the arts, and they also become part of a dance lineage that includes legends such as Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey.
Bawa added, “For teachers to build their careers, they attend and teach at conferences, intensives, and festivals, which gives them credibility. These are places where they can create work that can become their own legacy; they create their own history.”
Among master class instructors were CSU Dominguez Hills dance program faculty members: Marco Carreon (Class of ’10, B.A. theatre arts, dance option), who taught a dance for children with special needs; lecturer Jeff Hendricks, who taught L.A. style salsa; lecturer Elissa Kyriacuou, who taught yogalates, a melding of yoga and pilates; and Ressl who taught Zena Rommett floor-barre, a technique in which dancers lie on the floor to learn ballet movement.
New to ACDFA conferences this year, Ressl introduced a student research component. Initiated by the national ACDFA office, Ressl said she decided to add the component because she and students from her program had similar experiences during student research day on campus.
The CSU Dominguez Hills dance program has been a member of ACDFA since 2007, and its faculty members have participated in multiple Southwest conferences as adjudicators. The ACDFA sponsors the National College Dance Festival, a biennial event, which will be held next on May 24-27, 2012 at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in Washington, D.C., and will showcase works selected from each regional conference.
For more information on the CSU Dominguez Hills dance program, visit http://cah.csudh.edu/dance.