Flashing lights, loud music, and cheers filled the Berkeley High School’s (BHS) Florence Schwimley Little Theater on January 10, 11, 17, and 18. Dancers rushed the stage and flooded the room with their energy and emotion.
Dance Production (DP) is an audition-based class offered for upperclassmen at BHS. They hold two performances every school year that never fail to impress, and this winter’s Dance Production was no exception. The pieces performed in the show were all student choreographed, excluding two pieces made by guest choreographers.
Year after year, DP dance shows have left the audience in awe. This year’s creative process stood out, according to Orli Hellerstein, a BHS senior and second-year DP dancer. “Last year was a lot more about the meaning behind a dance and sort of delving into the emotion, and this year was much more about enjoying being dancers in a room together,” said Hellerstein. She elaborated that this year’s dances were an expression of “the enjoyment of dance,” in contrast to previous years, which were centered around finding a deeper intention through the movement.
Itzel Salinas Hernandez, another senior in DP for her second year, said she felt that the dancers’ exuded confidence in their movements, and their professionalism was an outstanding aspect of the production. “We looked like we really knew what we were doing. We weren’t faking being good, but we knew we were good … It looked like we made a big effort into making the show, which we did,” she reflected.
The enthused audience agreed with Hernandez’s confidence in the dancers’ success on stage. Hollers and shouts of encouragement could be heard throughout the evening. Through their meaningful movement, the dancers took audience members on an emotional and boisterous journey. Although the students, families, and friends that came to the show were enthusiastic, the amount of people who came to DP 2020 was not as high as previous years. This could be due to the number of students in the DP class being lower than that of last year’s.
The experience of the show was equally remarkable for the dancers and for those watching them. Avery Nudel, a junior at BHS and another member of DP, reflected on the joys of performing: “It is seriously the best feeling in the world. So I just try my best on stage and smile, and I just know that everyone is watching me, I want to do my best for them,” she said. Similarly, Hernandez said that she felt a feeling of empowerment and fearlessness during the performances.
Nudel, along with BHS junior Sasha Alley, choreographed the hip-hop piece “MWAH.” It was full of empowering moments, formation changes, and complex choreography accompanied by multiple female rap and hip hop artists’ songs.
She described the process as a truly educational opportunity, as it was her first time working as a choreographer. “I was just super proud of the results that we came out with. I would recommend to anyone who hasn’t choreographed before to try doing it, because it was a huge learning experience and Dance Production is a great place to start and take that first step,” said Nudel.
The choreography of the dances is one aspect of DP that makes it a unique experience for both dancers and viewers because you can tell that the work has been put in by students and teachers.
The choreographing process was comprised of many months of hard work. Depending on dance genre and backgrounds with choreographing, many dancers had different experiences. Hernandez, who created the ’80s hip-hop piece “Look at Her,” remembered doing lots of research in order to increase the accuracy of the movement.
The piece involved references to popular ’80s culture, including the movie Flashdance. Unlike Nudel, this wasn’t her first time choreographing. “I also kind of mixed the old school kind of pop and my own kind of hip-hop and I mingled that together and made my dance,” said Hernandez.
Additionally, the performance had a wide variety of dance genres. This was one of the most important aspects of the DP experience. The variety of styles ranged from hip hop to jazz, modern, and ballet. Many talents were demonstrated over the four performances.
Students bring their backgrounds and strengths into the choreography of their pieces. “We have a lot of strengths in different styles of dance … so all the different styles intertwined,” Nudel said.
DP is welcoming towards all types of dance backgrounds. Hernandez shared that she had done hip-hop and Hawaiian dance before joining DP, but a good friend of hers had come from almost no technical experience.
On the contrary, she said that many dancers from last year “had a lot of technical backgrounds. They had ballet, or they had a lot of modern, and most of them were in dance companies.” She added that the different experiences that came with having done different types of dance accentuated each piece and helped the viewer recognize the ways students have impacted each dance in last year’s performance.
For students in DP, the performances are not the only takeaways that they believe will help them in their future dancing endeavors. Nudel said that she has acquired the creative skill of choreographing a substantial dance production. DP has also taught her how to audition, a skill she plans to use in her creative future.
Hellerstein spoke of a different skill she gained through the class. “I think DP has taught me how to work with people, more than anything else,” she said. Working in an environment with many dominant personalities is a tool she will carry with her, even after her time with DP.
DP offers an exciting alternative to the average high school dance class and encourages student talent and leadership both on the dance floor and off.