August 30th marks a day of celebration for the ODC community: a day to remember the past ten years, commemorate the dance world choreographers Brenda Way, KT Nelson, and Kimi Okada have fostered within San Francisco and celebrate the faculty that teaches at the school. The original Oberlin Dance Collective began teaching classes in 1976 in a “tiny, little shoebox of a studio on Potero Hill,” according to Kimi Okada, director of the ODC School. Nelson, Okada and Way knew that in order to fulfill their collective artistic aspirations, they needed to first immerse themselves in the community they had just arrived in.
“We knew immediately we needed contacts within the community, so we took it upon ourselves to see everything we possibly could culturally that was going on; in music, in dance, in theater and experimental work,” Okada said.
As the company grew from a handful of artists that managed to cross the country in a yellow school bus to a community of dancers, performers and students, the space requirements grew in congruency. Eventually, with the help of a grant from the Zellerbach Foundation and other gracious donors, ODC purchased the space where the ODC Theater sits today – originally a multi-purpose building with a lobby, some offices and bathrooms. The school continued to expand within the confines of the ODC Theater space, but at this time “there were maybe ten to twelve classes a week and the budget for the school was probably around $60,000 a year at the very most,” Okada said.
In September 2005, ODC opened their 33,000 square foot performing arts training center, the ODC Dance Commons, half a block from the ODC Theater. Three years before the Commons officially opened, Kimi began conversations with Consuelo Faust, the director of Rhythm and Motion, regarding the possibility of combining the two institutions.
“We had this huge new building with five studios, along with the theater building, and [the question arose as to] how we were going to fill it up and pay for it,” Okada said. “It was incredibly daunting to think about how [Rhythm and Motion] were going to come over with however many classes -sometimes four of five classes a day- and with all of their clientele.” Despite the inevitable difficulty of merging two independent organizations, the combination seemed logical between ODC’s expertise in contemporary and ballet work and Rhythm and Motion’s established workout and global program. The partnership became an all-encompassing, integrating all forms of dance into one large community.
“They had a workout program and a global program, we had contemporary and ballet; it felt like it was really our mission,” Okada said. “It became dance for everybody, with a huge array of teachers already in place from two different major dance institutions.
Logistics aside, the partnership’s true success stems from the fortune that “Rhythm and Motion’s view of dance and ODC’s view of dance were deeply aligned, in that everyone should experience the power of dance and the joy of dancing at whatever level,” according to Okada.
Now, in 2015, ODC Commons celebrates its tenth anniversary as a fully-established school, with a class schedule offering over 200 different classes a week, and handling a budget of $2 million a year.
Okada manages a teaching faculty of nearly 150 teachers, between the Youth/Teen program and the Open Adult classes, all of whom are experienced and reputable in their respective styles. She wholeheartedly believes that “if you really want to get a job as a dancer these days, you need to cross train and not just be a one-dimensional dancer.” The faculty and array of classes reflect that belief not only in their sheer breadth of styles and techniques, but the way that each and every class benefits and transcends other ODC classes.
Part of Okada’s role within the ODC School is to look for the best of the best to teach the hundreds of students that train at the Commons. She is always sure to look for reputation, finding teachers that are highly experienced in their field, but also have a deep understanding for the ODC philosophy and mission.
“I feel like we need to have experienced professionals here because my goal is to have the best possible teachers who know how to train, who have a point of view about teaching and who understand that we deeply believe in cross-training for professionals and pre-professionals,” Okada said.
The school continues to grow, with more and more hopeful dance teachers reaching out to Kimi looking for the opportunity to work at ODC. Even with all of the studio space between the Commons and the theater building, the list of interested teachers Okada keeps on file grows longer every day.
“There’s a great irony in that after having built this gigantic space, we still don’t have enough,” Okada said. “If you had told me in 1996 that the school would have turned into such a driving force and major part of ODC, I would have never believed you.”
And this collective eagerness for so many dance teachers to be a part of the ODC community stems partially from the current faculty on staff.
“We owe so much to the faculty we have, they are what gives us such a good reputation,” Okada said.
Now, ten years down the road from the initial opening of the Commons, ODC looks back at the journey they’ve been through, and recognizes all the teachers, dancers, artists and students that have made it all possible.
An all-day free event, the ODC School 10th Anniversary Party is on August 30. Click here for more information.
Maya Kitayama just completed her freshman year at Fordham University where she is majoring in Dance and Political Science. She served as an intern at ODC in July 2015.