Ricka Glucksman Kelsch studied psychology and performing arts at UCLA. She trained in dance professionally outside of UCLA primarily at the Roland Dupree Dance Academy with the likes of Roland Dupree, Hama, Michael Bennett Jackie Sleight and the myriad other high profile teachers. Ricka also studied with Jaime Rogers, Joe Tremain, Claud Thompson and others and while studying with Roland Dupree at his studio, she also assisted dance artist Hama. Kelsch has choreographed for film, stage and television and taught dance in theater and dance studios throughout the Los Angeles area with her specialty in Musical Theater She also co-taught the musical theater workshop at UCLA, and was the high school dance director at Notre Dame Academy in Los Angeles, and Middle School Dance Director at Crossroads School for Arts and Science. Seven years ago, she created and became the executive director of Dance and Dialogue, a wonderful nonprofit arts organization for Los Angeles teens and youth from all demographics, but primarily those from the most at risk communities. It is a program founded on “equity and equality for all”. Over the years Dance and Dialogue has been serving about 2,000 teens and youth in Los Angeles and beyond per year with a total of having served approximately 10,000 in all.
Part of its Mission Statement reads “Dance and Dialogue’s program is based in joy: the joy of dance, the joy of sharing, the joy of self-expression. By bringing together people of all ages, from all the different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds that make up our community, the program looks to break down the barriers of preconceived differences and eliminates fear of others. As participants share their stories, they encounter their own feelings and discover that in self-expression combined with art, they gain in empathy and self-confidence.”
The Dance and Dialogue teams includes designer, writer, project manager and independent entrepreneur Andy Zeff; choreographer, Artistic Director of JazzAntiqua Dance & Music Ensemble Pat Taylor; actor producer and musician Wally Kurth; Executive Director of Screen Actors Guild Ilyanne Morden Kichaven, and Kevin Orbach who works with PTM Images, the largest North American manufacturer of furniture, art and wall décor, as Manager of Digital Marketing. The dance faculty at Dance and Dialogue include James MahKween (Jazz), Ray Basa (Hip-Hop), Pat Taylor (Jazz), Ginger Brousard (Contemporary), Kara Mack (Afro/Brazilian), Shari Washington Rhone (Contemporary), and Kaula Barber (Hula) as teachers who have made major contributions to the program. They also bring in new teachers each year which have included Mark Kanemura, former SYTYCD All-Star and lead dancer for Lady GaGa, Valarie Pettiford, original Fosse dancer, and others who specialize in cultural dance genres.
“We see that the breakdown in human connection is due to lack of cultural knowledge. We understand that our differences are our greatest strengths as it is our differences that bring so much color, culture and vibrancy to our communities through food, art and the sharing of traditions.” Explains Kelsch.
Students who participate in Dance and Dialogue learn to not only accept who they are, but to accept others regardless of where they live or who they are. Through the art of dance and the practice of dialogue these young people learn to celebrate each other differences rather than fear them. “We do this through the use of social emotional practices along with evidence based social skills to support better communication….and then we dance!” Kelsch wrote.
While studying dance and having discussions, the youth at Dance and Dialogue begin to build self-esteem, learn who they are as individuals, and how to begin building community. The program aids these youth to not only look forward to a brighter future, but it gives them the tools to create a future that they might not have had otherwise.
Kelsch states that Dance and Dialogue is Zoom ready for the fall. Its programs include:
All City Workshops – Schools from every socioeconomic background congregate at one location for a day of council circles and dance Workshops for Middle Schools and High Schools
Residency Programs – In school residency programs are offered from 9-16 weeks (No dance experience required) that is available to grades 3-12 and are for students not just interested in dance. “most of our students have not had any arts experience and dance would be at the bottom of their list of choices. In these cases, dance is used as a way to connect to our bodies, express our feelings and create a sense of community. We meet our students where they are, which is most often in their seats behind a desk with their hoodies up over their heads. We begin with desk drumming and other non-threatening- methods. Before you know it, they are stomping, doing the salsa, and connecting with jazz music. It is through our residency programs where we hear from our students that they have reduced feelings of anger, frustration and depression while experiencing more joy and hope for the future.” Kelsch writes.
At Risk Youth – In school residency programs are offered from 9-16 weeks (no dance experience required) With support from the California Arts Council, Dance and Dialogue is able to provide more in school residency programs to at risk and undervalued communities. The organization strives to create a classroom environment for all students to “feel seen, heard, and know that they matter”.
Summer Leadership Intensive – A week long immersive experience for students ready to engage in civic principles and community leadership through the arts. This program is considered ideal for inspiring choreographer and dance looking to improve their story-telling skills on and off the dance floor. The week long intensive is free and celebrates its conclusion with a public performance.
All City Workshop End of Year Celebration – Schools attending the All City Workshops are invited back to share success stories and perform in concert.
The participants of these workshops include school from the Los Angeles area and as far north as Santa Barbara and Ojai. The teachers bring a range of students from advance to those who are in other arts programs who have an interest in taking dance classes. These schools care about communicating with their students and they wish to aid the youth to understand “that though they are from different neighborhoods and look different or live life differently, that at the core we all want the same thing. To be seen, to be loved and to know that we matter”.
The students are divided into groups of 20 and begin the day in council learning how to develop a stronger connection to other via the telling of stories and sharing of feelings. “Judgement is dropped and all students commit to holding a space of acceptance and celebration for the rest of the day…the joy is palpable!” Following the council sessions, the students dance. The day concludes with the students being given a task of coming up with a ways to pay their experiences forward using the art of dance.
Having viewed Dance and Dialogue’s website and viewed its promo videos, it is clear why this extraordinary organization has been recognized by the Violence Prevention Coalition of Los Angeles and The Dance Resource Center with a Lester Horton Award for Community Leadership. If you are interested in working with inner city youth, I strongly recommend that you visit the Dance and Dialogue website to learn more.
To learn more about Dance and Dialogue, click HERE.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle
Featured image: Students at Dance and Dialogue – Photo courtesy of the organization