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Dance Program at SHP Reaches New Heights

Hip hop classes, competitions, and conventions take center stage in helping grow the program
With Sacred Heart Preparatory’s (SHP) dance instructors adding more class offerings in recent years, growing the program’s enrollment, and creating more performance and competition opportunities, SHP dancers’ skills are also increasing, gaining notoriety across the Bay Area and on the national stage.
 
Students are entering prestigious programs such as Joffrey Academy of Dance, pursuing musical theatre degrees in college, and are even starring on Broadway (see story on page 58 of the Sacred Heart Magazine).
 
“We’ve really leveled up on our commitment and training—this year is the most involved we’ve ever been with conventions and competitions,” said Lauren Benjamin, SHP dance teacher.
 
Recently, SHP’s Pulse Dance Team, the competitive branch of the dance program, competed at the Rainbow National Dance Competition at Chabot College in Hayward. The team received top awards after competing with two routines: Hey Ya!, a fused, upbeat number with 17 dancers choreographed by Benjamin, and a contemporary routine of 11 dancers titled Whole, by guest choreographer Daniela Dessert.
 
Both routines received the highest division score, placing the team 1st overall in their division.
 
SHP’s dance teachers Benjamin and Matthew Montenegro are both trained in various styles of dance, from modern and contemporary, to jazz and ballet. But it’s hip hop that’s resonating with dance students and audiences. A new class offering at SHP called Urban Styles began two years ago, and many of the conventions and competitions the program has participated in this spring have featured hip hop, including Monsters of Hip Hop, a convention Pulse participated in last month, and the upcoming May convention/competition, NRG Dance Project.
 
“Hip hop is really expressive and relevant in terms of the dance world. It’s something students are really interested in and enjoy,” said Benjamin. “It’s often now required for dancers to be well-rounded. There’s not a hierarchy with classical ballet at the top; the priority is to be versed in many styles of dance.”
 
The hip hop style “feels more accessible to boys, who don’t come in with a lot of studio training—that has been a selling point for expanding our program,” said Benjamin.
 
Four years ago, beginning dance classes at SHP had 14-15 students each; today beginning classes have 26. Until this year, the dance program participated in one competition/convention (one event) per year, now the program attends two competitions and two conventions.
 
Pulse Dance Team draws in about 10 freshmen each year. “Many students are choosing to come to SHP because of dance—the program keeps growing and has more visibility. These are high-achieving students who want to be a part of something challenging where they can express themselves and grow, and be active,” said Benjamin. This year, Pulse has three boys on the team, and Benjamin anticipates that number will increase.
 
Performances both on- and off-campus have increased for the group. On the books this year was a San Francisco performance with City Dance, a Stanford basketball game half-time show, and of course performances at SHP’s various sporting events, art shows, theater showcases, and fundraisers. A special opportunity for any dance student at SHP is attending the upcoming Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performance at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall.
 
This year also marked the first time Pulse as a group was featured in an SHP school musical, Chicago; a preview dance from the play was performed at the annual Fine Arts Boosters’ (FAB) fundraiser, the James B. Everitt Chili Cook-Off.
 
That fundraiser has allowed the Fine Arts department at SHP to offset costs of additional programs and opportunities for students, such as the recent Disney Musical Theater workshops where Pulse members learned dance routines guided by professionals, and the various competitions and conventions the dance team has participated in this year.
 
“Because of the support of FAB, we’ve been able to subsidize over 50 percent of our programs for our dance team students, making dance accessible to more students,” said Benjamin. “It’s a community effort to expand, grow, and sustain the program, and so much of that is through community participation. That’s the Sacred Heart way.”
 
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Founded by the Society of the Sacred Heart, SHS is a Catholic, independent, co-ed day school for students in preschool through grade 12