First Position, Plie, Ronde De Jambe, Freestyle, 5-6-7-8…just a few of the many dance terms and counts shouted over booming, high energy music during dance classes at the PULSE Dance Experience which was held in La Jolla, CA, April 14-16, 2018.
PULSE which is more fast paced and recommended for dancers ages 11 and up, and Camp PULSE which is geared towards younger demographic and ages 7-13, was an exciting weekend long workshop which aims to educated and teach dancers in an inspiring environment, convention style.
Dancers are divided into three groups: Intermediate, Advanced and Pro and classes take place throughout the day. Each class was an hour long and and was taught by celebrity faculty performers Cris Judd, Dean Lee, Galen Hooks, Gil Duldulao, Ian Eastwood, Katy Tate, Kevin Frey, Lane Napper, Matt Steffanina, Nancy O’Meara and Rosero McCoy.
Our oldest Caleb is 16 years old, loves music and loves to dance so imagine his shock and excitement when I told him we were the recipients of 2 VIP tickets for the Cocktail Hour and Battle Royale Showcase during PULSE weekend!
However, the PULSE committee felt in order for us to really get the full experience, Caleb should also participate in the classes, so he was granted a scholarship for the weekend to also attend as a dancer and learn from the best of the best. When we arrived at the hotel for check-in, the buzz of excited energy, nerves, hype and even intimidation among dancers was through the roof!
Day 1: The morning kicked off with a heart pumping, entertaining opening number performed by Lead and Elite Protege dancers who also travel the country as assistants for faculty and was quickly followed up with a welcome greeting before everyone was dismissed to their ballrooms to begin dancing. The first choreography of the day was taught by instructor Erik and was a hip hop routine to a song by Cardi B.
The choreography was a little easier than I expected with a few challenging twists here and there but then it got a little tougher and faster towards the end of the song. The second class was taught by Katy Tate who is a 6’1″ tall dancing goddess, and she taught a contemporary routine which everyone danced barefoot to.
Because Caleb is more of a hip hop dancer, he had to work hard to really step out of his comfort zone with learning contemporary moves and even though he struggled the first few mins, he eventually persevered and picked up the routine beautifully. Aside from just teaching the choreography, Katy really taught the dancers how to feel the music and dance from emotion without fear of mistakes or imperfections.
The afternoon classes were split and Intermediates were taught by Ian Eastwood and the Advanced and Pro groups were taught a complex jazz number by Dean Lee and his adorable UK accent. Ian is a fierce ball of energy and brought another hip hop routine to the dance floor which consisted of advanced musicality but easy movements. What he explained to the dancers is that sequencing and timing are key and their bodies don’t stop moving between counts, but instead keep moving right into the next move. Cris Judd taught the last class of the afternoon on day 1 and it was a fun and entertaining Latin/Spanish dance routine. Again the musicality was advanced but the choreography and movements were beautiful and easy enough for the dancers to grasp. Judging from the applause of the parents and other spectators when the dancers finished, I would guess this was the favorite routine of the day.
Throughout the weekend and in between classes I also had the chance to check out the Camp Pulse classes and let me just say, the amount of energy coming from their ballroom just smacked you right in the face when you walked in and those kids were incredible at learning their choreography.
Camp Pulse kids range in age from 7-13 and are split into two groups: Pop Starz which are ages 7-10 and Teen Team ages 11-13. Their routines were surprisingly quite fast and a bit complex but every kid rose to the occassion and danced their heart out with a tremendous amount of personality, charisma and passion.
The Pulse also hosted a Non-Profit Fundraiser Cocktail Hour & Faculty Q&A Saturday evening which was a stellar red carpet event and gave everyone the opportunity to meet the faculty one on one and get to know them on a more personal level. There was also a silent auction taking place with many great prizes for guests to bid on and proceeds raised went to Choreographing Lives, which funded the Elite Protégé and Lead Counselor Scholarship Programs.
One highlight for us during the Cocktail Hour, aside from getting photos with the faculty, was getting to have some time talking with performer Cris Judd who is very humble and quite down to earth. He shared with Caleb and I how he didn’t begin dancing until the age of 21 and within a few short months of working hard and taking many dance classes, he was qualified enough to land a contract dancing with Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL and from there went on to dance for many world renowned performers such as Michael Jackson, Enrique Iglesias and Jennifer Lopez just to name a few. He advised Caleb to stay humble and recommended he take basic ballet and jazz classes to develop a good foundation for dancing.
The evening concluded with the Battle Royale Showcase Performance which nearly blew the roof off the building with outstanding performances by dancers who ranged in age from 7-18 years old. The dancers can perform any number of their choice as a solo, duet, trio, quartets, small group, large group, line, or production. All of the performances were outstanding but my personal favorite performances of the night were the two tap dancers from The Element Dance Center who performed a show stopping routine in their dazzling, eye catching costumes and the Leads and Elite Proteges who performed a fierce, group routine which was worthy of a standing ovation. It was one of the most spectacular and impressive shows we have ever seen!
Day 2: The first day was long and grueling so many of the dancers were dragging by Sunday morning, Caleb included. Caleb was also dealing with a sprained ankle from track and field practice, so it took a 20 min icing session, some Tylenol and an ankle support to really get him up and moving before the first class of the day but he pushed through it and excitedly checked in for the morning warm up with Nancy O’Meara. The stretching and ballet warm up was to one of my favorite songs “Attention” by Charlie Puth and was about a good 20 mins to help wake everyone up and get their hearts pumping.
From there she began teaching them a brutally fast paced and upbeat contemporary/jazz routine to none other than Paula Abduls “Cold Hearted Snake”. She really stressed the importance of feeling the music, freestyling a little more and giving a convincing and believable performance when dancing. The astounding Kevin Frey was next to take over teaching the dancers an extremely complex contemporary routine that challenged even the best dancers. He continuously encouraged the dancers to be vulnerable on the dance floor and not focus so much on perfection. It was stunning choreography with long, fluid movements and made a very profound statement when danced. When his class concluded, the students were graced by the presence of Elite Alumni Dominique Battiste who taught them a quick 30 minute hip hop routine. The last two classes of the day were another fabulous jazz number taught by Dean Lee and a hip hop/contemporary number taught by Gil Duldulao.
The weekend completely wrapped up with the PULSE scholarship ceremony where well over 50 scholarships are given. Upon arriving and checking in, dancers are given a number which they have to wear the entire weekend. The Faculty write down numbers of dancers who catch their eye in classes – whether it’s recognizing technique, drive, style or enthusiasm. Those numbers are later submitted and tallied to determine the scholarship recipients and the scholarships can be applied at Regional workshops, Open Call competitions, Master classes and even the PULSE summer 2018 event which will be held July 10-14th in Las Vegas, NV.
It’s amazing sometimes how one opportunity can open all sorts of other doors and create other opportunities and this weekend was full of opportunities for Caleb.
I had a few moments throughout that weekend of silent tears while watching Caleb dance; some fear, some pride, some nerves, some out of just awe in what he could actually do and tears of gratitude and joy from seeing how much joy he was experiencing in doing what he enjoys which is dancing. The common theme and word from that weekend seemed to be “vulnerable”. The instructors really wanted these dancers to allow themselves to be vulnerable and trust that vulnerability. They didn’t care entirely about perfection(which took a lot of pressure off Caleb because he is by no means a perfect dancer) but more about the raw emotion and dancers stepping out of their comfort zone which Caleb had to do many times, especially with jazz and contemporary.
I was also impressed with the patience level of every instructor throughout the weekend. Their patience was indescribable and their ability to break down the choreography to a room of 100 or more dancers just so everyone could pick it up, was impressive. Many times they would run through a routine ten times if not more so everyone could really memorize and master the choreography. When asked what he thought of the entire experience, Caleb said:
It was amazing! The instruction, the faculty and the dances were fantastic. It was a very interesting and awesome learning experience and a chance to see what I could really do. I was able to meet a handful of the faculty and learn their choreography as well as receive encouragement, tips and advice from a few of them. The experience really helped me to tap into myself and my potential and just let loose. It was a very impactful and eye opening weekend and I would go back a 1,000 times if I could.
Considering he’s never danced before in a convention style setting, has never had any formal dance instruction or had to quickly learn choreography, I was highly impressed and so very proud at how fast he was able to learn and execute the choreography throughout the weekend.
Even in the moments when he battled self doubt, feelings of inadequacy and fear of “what if i mess up”, he still tried, gave 100 percent and allowed himself to be vulnerable. Caleb’s hoping to start a hip hop dance club at his school and share what he’s learned with his friends who like to dance as well, but in the meantime he will soon start beginner ballet classes in town and next time around will be a little more limber and a lot more prepared. We are and always will be eternally grateful to the amazing, hard working staff at PULSE who went above and beyond to make sure our weekend was comfortable and epic, blessed that we were granted the experience of a lifetime and wait in anticipation for PULSE Dance Experience to return next year because we will definitely be there and we will be ready.