Oakland's prominent African-American dance company, Dimensions Dance Theater, founded its youth outreach program twenty years ago under the name Rites of Passage. The first classes served just a handful of students in a small classroom. Today, the program offers a wide variety of contemporary and traditional dance classes to underprivileged East Bay youth ages eight through eighteen.
The basic goal of the program is to offer low-cost, quality dance education to Oakland's youth, but its actual efforts and effects reach far beyond that. Latanya Tigner, project coordinator for Rites of Passage, said in an interview that she has seen a homeless student lead the class, go on to graduate high school, and get off the streets. She has watched many students go on to become dance professionals — or become lawyers and legislative assistants. She pointed out that learning to dance is largely about discipline and self-confidence, and that dance nurtures the ability to apply those characteristics to different aspects of one's life.
To cement its efforts, the program also offers workshops for students on financial literacy, as well as art-exposure field trips to see others perform. But primarily, it offers classes in West African dance, jazz, ballet, hip-hop, and tap, as well as percussion and spoken word. The program brings these classes to schools through a partnership with the Oakland Unified School District, and also offers them through after-school programs at the The Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts in Oakland.
To attend the afternoon program, parents simply need to sign their children up: There is no application required. Ten weeks' tuition is a flat rate of $150 and allows the student to enroll in as many classes as he or she would like during that period. Still, no first-time students are turned away for lack of funds. Full and partial scholarships and payment plans are available to those who need them. For students who have enrolled in the past but cannot afford the tuition to enroll again, the program offers to cut the tuition in half.
At the end of every session, all students come together to put on a performance. While the shows were once casual and small, they have gradually grown into full productions. This season's performance, which takes place at Phillip Reeder Performing Arts Center at Castlemont High School (8601 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland), will celebrate the program's twentieth anniversary with two hours of exuberant dance. Titled It Takes a Village, the event will not only showcase performances by Rites of Passage students, but by other Bay Area youth ensembles.
The show will begin with a traditional invocation piece by Chitresh Das Dance Company's Chhandam Youth Dance program, and will also feature performances by Oaktown Jazz Workshops, On Demand hip-hop dance company, and Iron Triangle Urban Ballet. Dimensions Dance Theater professionals will perform as well, and Rites of Passage alumni will present pieces set to recorded testimonials of their experiences as students of the program.
Sunday, Dec. 7. 3 p.m., $15–$20. DimensionsDance.org