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Body Language: UCLA Dance


By Bekah Wright, Photos by Patrik Giardino

Published Apr 1, 2013 8:00 AM


Cultural Movements

Dance auditions at UCLA, in fact, are stringent, with more than 240 applicants vying for approximately 30 spots in the major alone every year. Classes aren't just targeted toward barres and pointe shoes. Activism and community outreach are major components of the curriculum.

Shiva Rea '91, M.A. '97 came to Westwood after doing volunteer work in Kenya and Zambia, where she'd become a member of a woman's dance group. "I'd seen the power of movement as a cultural force for change and was looking for a university program that merged anthropology and dance," she says. "Entering [WACD] was like discovering a field with a richness beyond any goals I could have had."

This new way of looking at dance takes many surprising and sometimes provocative shapes, such as AMP!, an arts-based, sexual health education program for Los Angeles high school youth that's part of the UCLA Art & Global Health Center founded by Gere in 2004 to explore "the interface of art and medicine." The AMP! Sex Squad surprises even its own members, like WACD student Sebastian Milla '13.

"I'd never seen anything like it before," he says of his first time as an audience member. "My own sex ed experience taught me nothing except how the plumbing works, which doesn't help. Sex Squad is eye-opening, focusing on the emotional and maturity aspects of sexual health. Seeing the Sex Squad in action tied me to the major."


Kevin Le '14 Specialty: Contemporary Ballet, Modern, Hip-Hop

According to Timothy Kordic, program manager of the Los Angeles Unified School District's (LAUSD) HIV/AIDS Prevention Unit, "AMP! uses the visual and performing arts to deliver sensitive information in a relevant, fun and genuine way that meets the standards, objectives and goals in framing that information for education."

And then there is Marks' use of dance to explore the post-war experience of veterans, an unconventional approach to the performance art that even impressed her fellow faculty.

"Exposure through a dance and theater environment allows people like me to 'get with it,' this moment in time and the suffering that has taken place that I wouldn't feel otherwise," Gere says of Marks' work. "Being knocked off balance is a very good thing for a dancer. That's when the movement becomes more compelling, where interesting discoveries are made and where the metaphors of life get played out."