A Jeté Ahead of the Norm
By Julieta Hernandez
By: Julieta Hernandez Photos by: Aaron Garcia
When Jenny Espino first assembled the Corpus Christi Dance Collective, a community dance school and arts movement, she knew she wanted it to become an award-winning company.
Serious dancing can be compared to standardized testing. There’s an evolving way to do both -- with gain rather than strain -- and that comes from a well-stretched mind and body. With instructors Jenny Espino, James Vargas, and Carlos “Los” Cano, the collective has given dancers in the Coastal Bend area ownership of their dance education instead of an overload of techniques to absorb. A lot less to carry makes these dancers lighter on their feet.
Like any other artist and their art, dancing becomes an outlet for the dancer. That’s Espino’s vision of the program: hardwood studio floors for a (well-stretched!) artist to develop healthy coping mechanisms and forms of expression. The art of dance in its many forms has let Espino witness breakdowns in a dancer as well as breakthroughs.
“My teaching principles are guided by Paulo Freire and Bukovsky, people who have developed more collaborative learning,” says Espino. With a background rich in training and teaching, her decade of teaching dance in both private and public institutions has not been limited to hip-hop, jazz, contemporary, and lyrical dance styles.
“As any educator, it is your responsibility not just to teach the discipline or the field you know you’re teaching, but also to get learners closer to figuring out the things that make them feel the most human and live their most purposeful lives,” Espino explains.
“It will be different for everyone. While it’s not necessarily in my interest to determine what that is for each dancer, my hope is that through dance and through the type of learning environment we create, dancers are able to get closer to the things that make us feel the most human and the most purposeful.”
Curriculum at the CC Dance Collective partners knowledge of dance with knowledge of self. Developing muscle memory and work ethic and then translating those lessons inward doesn’t happen overnight. In terms of competitive dance, students will spend all season training and go to five, seven, or as many as eight competitions in a year where they’re judged on very specific criteria.
“We try not to pressure dancers who are just looking for a creative outlet or a physical outlet,” she explains. “But we do have some dancers who are incredibly invested in what they’re doing at the moment and have this deep interest in what the future of dance might hold for them, whether it’s in college or professional commercial business.”
Those dancers, for instance, usually take about three or four hours of dance a day. The collective also works towards annual showcases and recitals in Corpus Christi as a way to let the community know what’s going on inside the studio walls.
“Live dance is really an important thing, and it's such a dying art form, and it horrifies me,” Espino says.
In addition to learning light turns, leaps, and stretching and strengthening techniques, the dance collective’s mix of competitive and non-competitive dancers also practice video and music video work. These projects will aid them in their journey going into academia or commercial professional dance.
“There is something we’re offering and trying to offer. Development, creativity, all of the stuff you should be trying to foster in young artists. But I think the approach to developing those things is different for different studios,” Espino says about her collective, where she helps dancers achieve their goals on their own terms.