On March 6th and 7th, the Regina Klenjoski Dance Company (RKDC) will celebrate the 20th Anniversary of its dance education program in collaboration with the City of Torrance Cultural Services Division of the Community Services Department. The celebration will include two performances of the annual “The Kids Show” at the James R. Armstrong Theatre in Torrance, CA. These performances represent the conclusion of eight-weeks of dance courses and will bring the total number of students who have studied and performed with the company’s program “Dancing with RKDC” over the past two decades to 22,000. “Dancing with RKDC” is now a program that Regina Klenjoski oversees in Torrance and in Wichita, offering courses in a wide variety of styles that include Ballet, Tap, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Jazz Funk, Contemporary, Yoga and Barre Pilates. The ages of the students range from 2 to 15 and The Kids Show will include approximately 300 young dancers.

Regina Klenjoski - Photo by Rose Eichenbaum

Regina Klenjoski – Photo by Rose Eichenbaum

Regina Klenjoski is a choreographer, dance educator and the artistic director of Regina Klenjoski Dance Company whose work is well known and respected throughout the Los Angeles area. For many years she also helped promote the art of dance as producer of the annual SOLA Contemporary Dance Festival showcasing local emerging dance artists. Her company is now based in Wichita, Kansas but Klenjoski maintains a strong connection to and visibility within Torrance and Los Angeles.

Klenjoski took time to speak with me from Wichita between company rehearsals and administrative meetings. We discussed topics relating to the upcoming kids show, her education program and her company’s performance and touring schedule plans in celebration of its 20th Anniversary Season next year.

Klenjoski and her family relocated to Wichita, Kansas after her husband accepted a new job offer. At first Klenjoski hired her California dancers on a project to project basis, but finding that situation unsustainable, she hired very talented local dancers and set about creating the Wichita extension of “Dancing with RKDC”.

When asked about how she made the original connection to Torrance, Klenjoski explained that while living and working in Chicago, her husband was offered a position in Cypress, CA. They chose to live in Redondo Beach which is adjacent to Torrance in an area known as the South Bay. The administration at the Torrance Cultural Arts Center heard about the work she had done in Chicago and offered her a partnership teaching classes and rehearsal space for her dances. Her company had the rare opportunity for ten years to rehearse rent free and were able to present an annual performance season at the James R. Armstrong Theater. It was also the City of Torrance that helped Klenjoski launch the SOLA Dance Festival. Moreover, RKDC was given a small stipend to use towards production costs.

She did venture into Los Angeles and other cities in southern California to work on other projects but considering herself to be extremely loyal to her community, Klenjoski chose to set her roots down in Torrance because of all the support the city continued to bestow on her company.

There are former members of my company that I am not working with right now.” Klenjoski said. “There three dancers in Los Angeles who are not former company members and there are six dancers from Wichita who are presently in RKDC.”. The work Klenjoski referred to is the one she is presently creating titled Far From Home, a work celebrating her parents’ 50 year journey from Macedonia to America. Klenjoski grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and after the move to Wichita, her parents relocated there to be closer to her and their grandchildren. “They are now in their senior years and the move from Cleveland to Wichita was very difficult.” Klenjoski said. “It was a big hardship on them, and it was then that I realized that they are about as far as they can be from their original home and culture, the traditions, and their orthodox church. Pretty much they are here only for my husband and me, and our kids.”

One of the perks of living in Wichita was the lower cost of living which allowed her family to travel to Macedonia to visit relatives. Klenjoski said that these visits not only allowed her to grow closer to her family in Macedonia but provided her with a clearer perspective on exactly how much her parents gave up moving to America.

Far From Home excerpt - two men and violinist photo Lillian Bartlett Far From Home excerpt - man, woman and violinist Photo by Lillian Bartlett
Far From Home excerpt - man, woman and violinist Photo by Lillian Bartlett

Her parents’ story was the inspiration that sparked Klenjoski to create Far From Home, a work that she has been developing for over a year, and that will have its premiere in Wichita May 10 and 11, 2019  before traveling to LA for performances in March of 2020.  I will wait to go into more detail about this work in a later article once Far From Home has been completed. What I will share is that Klenjoski and company held workshops and interviews with people in Wichita, some of whom had moved there from all around the world. The focus of the workshops was to listen to their stories of migration and the effects that it had on their lives. RKDC will hold similar workshops in LA next year. The interviews were documented on film to be presented to audiences just prior to their seeing Far From Home. The work is, however, first and far most a work that honors her parents’ journey and the sacrifices that they made. It is Klenjoski’s way of putting a personal face on the hardships that families endure leaving their home to live in an unfamiliar country and culture.

“Dancing with RKDC” in Torrance is not a school, but an extension of the education program at the City of Torrance Cultural Services Division of the Community Services Department. In the beginning Klenjoski worked at the department’s Learning Center, which offered young students a higher level of exposure to the arts and a much more rigorous program than that offered at most recreation centers. In 2005, they started what became known as The Kids Show which has continued through until now. Over the years there have been adults who have performed in this concert, but everyone involved decided to retain the now iconic title in Torrance.

Regina Klenjoski speaking to audience at The Kids Show - Photo by Anita Lobsenz

Regina Klenjoski speaking to audience at The Kids Show – Photo by Anita Lobsenz

“The Kids Show occurs biannually. “It is an opportunity for our students to appear on stage.” Klenjoski said. “To have full lights, costumes, tech rehearsals, and to perform in front of 500 people. It allows the students to experience that aspect of dance.” It was important for Klenjoski, and part of the mission for “Dancing with RKDC”, that these young dancers can experience this free from any competitive atmosphere.

Each session lasts eight weeks which allows parents to bring their children to an affordable dance experience without having to commit to a lengthy contract. It also allows the students to see if they enjoy dancing enough to perhaps become more involved.

Klenjoski explained that the teaching has always maintained a high level of expertise. The five teachers involved with this year’s eight-week courses that focused on self-expression, creativity, and performance skills were Brianna Barron, Marcus Jackson, Carly Duncan, Jesse Ocampo, and Kianna Peppers. Most of the student choreography is teacher driven. But in their performing youth group, students have the opportunity to be more involved in choreography and movement development. Now that Klenjoski lives in Wichita, it is Brianna Barron who hires the teachers.

Performers on stage at Kids Show - Photo by Anita Lobsenz

Performers on stage at Kids Show – Photo by Anita Lobsenz

Klenjoski is still very involved with the administrative part of “Dancing with RKDC” in Torrance. She attends and directs all the performances and travels there four times a year to meet the teachers, but it is Barron who runs the program. Some of the teachers have MFA or BFA degrees, but all of them must be good at working with children.  Klenjoski related a story of a young boy with autism who accompanied his older sister to dance classes. Prior to this, he had never spoken but a year later, it was to one of the dance instructors that he uttered his first words. For Klenjoski, this was again proof of the power and influences that dance and the other arts can have on the lives of young students.

When asked if The Kids Show’s program included dances that related to the 20 Anniversary of “Dancing with RKDC”, Klenjoski said not really, but that footage from films made over the years of previous The Kids Show performances were being shown.

Klenjoski’s professional company has many events scheduled for its 20th Anniversary season, but one of the most exciting is that it has been invited to be part of the Dance Fest Skopje in Macedonia. The festival is under the leadership of the Artistic Director of the Skopje Dance Theatre, Risima Risimkin. The company will travel to Macedonia in April to perform on the festival. There is also a collaboration between Klenjoski and the director during the fall of this year where director Risimkin will travel to Wichita to choreograph a new work on RKDC and Klenjoski will go to Macedonia to choreograph a new work on the Skopje Dance Theater. RKDC will then return to Macedonia to perform these two pieces at the Skopje Dance Festival in the spring of 2020 right after the March performance in LA. This adds yet another dimension to the larger scope of Klenjoski’s piece Far From Home.

I look forward to interviewing Regina Klenjoski again next year to learn more about her work Far From Home and to attend the performance in Los Angeles.

The Kids Show performs Wednesday, March 6 and Thursday, March 7, starting at 7:00 p.m. and includes a guest appearance by RKDC’s Jr. Company, a mentored youth performance group for aspiring dancers. Tickets, priced at $13, are available at the James R. Armstrong Theatre box office at 3330 Civic Center Dr., Torrance, or by calling (310) 781-7171.

For more information on the Regina Klenjoski Dance Company, click here.

To purchase tickets for RKDC’s The Kids Show, click here.

Featured image: Ballerinas relaxing before The Kids Show – Photo by Anita Lobsenz