In 2005, the San Francisco-based professional contemporary dance company ODC merged with Rhythm and Motion, an organization which offers dance classes to members of the Bay Area community.
I originally presumed that the merger was one made mostly out of economic necessity. More recently, now that the organization has been operating under this unified guise for several years, I’ve come to see it as being truly special.
While there are many professional dance companies around that offer classes, there are few that manage to integrate the professional and community aspects so thoroughly and comprehensively, without sacrificing artistic quality or a sense of inclusivity.
I was thinking about this only yesterday when I was attending a class at ODC, whose base is in the Mission district of San Francisco. The class, entitled “Fusion Rhythms,” is one of the most popular on offer at ODC. I’ve been taking it for more than a decade, on and off. You can take this class every day of the week and on most days, several fusion classes are on offer.
As someone who loves to dance but hasn’t sustained a real practice in any single form since I took ballet as a little girl, I love the unintimidating vibe of ODC’s Fusion Rhythms classes. I’ve taken salsa, ballet and modern rhythms classes at the institution too and found each class to have its own character while still feeling welcoming. I don’t think I would feel as comfortable trying to take a class at, say, the Lines Ballet in San Francisco, another organization in town which marries a professional company with a learning institution. As far as I can tell, Lines caters to “serious dancers.”
The fusion rhythms class is more or less a dance workout but with choreography that blends many different dance styles (such as hip-hop, salsa, disco, Scottish country dancing and classical ballet) that can easily be adapted to suit the beginner or the seasoned pro. The emphasis is on having fun and breaking a sweat. The class attracts all kinds of people, including ODC company dancers and other professionals.
Beyond this class, the sheer range of educational dance opportunities on offer at ODC is extraordinary. You can learn hula, tap, West African Guinean, modern jazz, classical ballet and belly dance to name just a few programs on offer. The porosity between the lives of the professionals who come in and out to brush up on skills, teach classes, hold auditions and participate in performances at the ODC Theatre across the street from the school, and the students of all ages and backgrounds, testifies to the strength of ODC as an institution.