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The Tongva Times

The Tongva Times

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Students learn to leap to their dreams through dance

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Bren Belmonte
LIVIN’ THEIR DREAMS Students begin Dance 1 class with warm up routines set to music.

   Tucked away on the M Building’s second floor is Gabrielino High School’s new dance studio. An Ariana Grande song is blasting from a speaker, and students move in unison in front of the mirror-covered walls. Teaching Dance 1 is Marco Tacandong, visual and performing arts department, wearing a microphone headset as he paces around the class.

   “I’ve been dancing for about 11 years now, and I started teaching at dance studios when I was a [senior] in high school,” recounted Tacandong. “This [year] is my first time teaching in a high school setting.”

   Tacandong takes inspiration from the Jabbawockeez and Michael Jackson, as well as mentors such as Rebecca Levy, co-founder of Jacksonville Dance Theatre. He has a degree in dance, starting in hip-hop but branching out into a diversity of styles. Now, he aims to pour that knowledge into his students.

   “I really love the style of hip hop, it looks so cool,” laughed freshman Julina Mireles. “It’s taught me a lot about the movements of body, about isolation, how to hit things solid and sharp.”

   While Mireles’ love for the activity began in Latin dance, senior Ceres Black was trained in ballet and tap. Where ballet is mathematical and rule-oriented, hip-hop and house are centered around one’s feelings. This stark difference has pushed Black out of their comfort zone in a liberating way.

   “Having to abandon that upbringing that I’ve had, I’ve had to move my body in ways that I haven’t really done,” Black explained. “Being able to move with the music connects you to a part of yourself that you didn’t know existed.”

   In addition to focusing on movement, Tacandong ensures his students understand the history behind the genres they are learning.

   “It’s so much deeper than just entertainment, and I want them to realize that dance is an art form, it’s a sport, and it’s also something that should be taken seriously,” Tacandong emphasized. “Since I’m Filipino, and hip hop is very African-American root based, I feel like we’re just guests in the culture.”

   This acknowledgment of those who paved the way in dance has helped students like Black rediscover their origins.

   “Growing up as a mixed woman- I’m white, Mexican, and Black- it’s a way for me to connect to my heritage, and a way for me to connect with a part of myself that I haven’t been able to reach for a long time,” Black said. “My mother danced hip hop for a really long time, so when I learned that this dance class did a lot of hip-hop, I wanted to be closer with her.”

   The course has attracted both first-timers and those experienced in competition. Mireles noted how many new dancers are thriving alongside the experienced ones, encouraging people to join for the positive and freeing environment.

   “I just do it like nobody’s watching,” Mireles said with a grin. “It totally lifts up the mood of my day.”

   Black shares this sentiment, describing how after being injured and unable to dance, the class changed their outlook on life and senior year.

   “In high school, everyone seems so judgmental,” Black emphasized. “But when you’re in there and you’re listening to music, and everyone’s just having a good time, honestly, just go for it.”

   Tacandong also lists the “full-circle energy exchange” as his favorite part of dancing. His goal is to encourage his students to pursue their dreams, no matter how out of the box they may seem.

   “Whether I’m teaching or I’m taking a class, it’s always such a joy to […] be surrounded by people who love it,” he reflected. “It’s so rewarding to see the growth of the students I teach.”

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About the Contributors
Sophia Pu
Sophia Pu, Editor in Chief
Sophia Pu is the Editor in Chief for the school newspaper, marking her fourth year with the team. Outside of her editorial duties, Sophia is involved in Speech and Debate and enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time in nature. Her commitment to the newspaper grew from a passion for interviewing a diverse range of individuals she might not have interacted with otherwise.
Bren Belmonte
Bren Belmonte, Staff Writer
Bren Belmonte is a Photographer and Staff Writer with three years of experience on our newspaper team. Outside of journalism, Bren enjoys cosplaying, photographing friends, reading manga, watching anime, and listening to music. Bren chose the journalism class in sophomore year after encouragement from family members in the industry. Since then, they've recognized it as a future passion and career interest.
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