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Dancing and all that jazz at COC

Posted: February 8, 2009 12:47 a.m.
Updated: February 8, 2009 4:59 a.m.

Kayla Benjamin, center, joins a group of dance students at a class hosted by the Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago Company, Saturday afternoon at College of the Canyons' Valencia campus.

Arms stretched, toes pointed, bodies twirled, sweat beads formed and energy flowed Saturday as about 20 College of the Canyons and community dance students followed the professional moves of Jarrett Kelly of the world-famous Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago Company.

"Flex the foot and bend the knee," Kelly enthusiastically told his temporary students. "Now stretch it out."

The Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center at College of the Canyons hosted the renowned dance group for a performance Saturday night but the center's directors gave beginning and intermediate dancers the opportunity to work with Kelly one-on-one in the afternoon.

"There is a whole series of opportunities we've had for students to work with presenting artists at the (arts center)," said Floyd Moos, dean of fine and performing arts. "For them to see first-hand this is what a professional dancer does and how they prepare, it becomes a real world experience as well as an educational experience."

As someone who's danced since she was 2 years old, learning from a successful dancer furnished a much appreciated opportunity for college dance student Ashley Workman of Saugus.

"I love this company and I've wanted to join them for years," said Workman, 17. "So it was really exciting to meet someone from the company and try out some of their choreography."

The Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago Company is in its 46th season and under the leadership of Artistic Director Nan Giordano, according to information the arts center provided. The group tours internationally and claims "expanding the boundaries of jazz dance while diversifying the repertoire," according to their Web site.

At 20 years old, Kelly, a Chicago native, is the youngest dancer in the Chicago Company - an anecdote which was inspiring to Workman.

"Right now I'm picking out colleges and deciding if I want to go into dancing, so it's exciting to see someone who's achieved what I want to achieve and he helped us understand the steps he took to get there," he said.

Kelly vibrantly led the group through a couple jazz routines as he snapped his fingers, called out the counts and swiftly and athletically displayed the steps himself.

"One, two, three, four, open, six, seven, eight," he said as he glided across the floor. "Bring it up and open."

Leading the class was a rewarding experience for Kelly, especially since he can identify with the young dancers.

"When there's good energy, they give me good energy," he said. "They were willing and ready to learn."
Kelly's advice to the dancers, many close to his age, was to focus on "class, class, class and practice, practice, practice."

"If you're a dancer then you already have that internal drive," he said. "You just have to practice and use classes as a performance opportunity."

Jessica Velasquez, 15, who practices with Elite Dance Studios in Santa Clarita enjoyed the professionalism of the class.

"This was really fun - all the energy feeding of everyone else," the Castaic teen said. "It's real dancing.

When everyone has energy you just get more out of it. I thought it was amazing that (Kelly) goes to other parts of the country just to show what he knows."

The one-hour class ended with catching of breath and the student's elevated excitement to see the Dance Group perform in the evening.

As for Kelly, he was not nervous about Saturday night's show.

"But I do withdraw and you might find me in my corner (before the show)," he said. "I get overly excited on stage so I have to calm it down."


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