Fostering a New Kind of Artist: A Conversation with Tanya Bello | By Maya Kitayama

Tanya Bello Photo by Margo Moritz

Tanya Bello
Photo by Margo Moritz

Maya Kitayama: Could you give us a brief rundown of your training and performance background?

Tanya Bello: I was mostly trained on the East coast in Graham and Limón technique, but since coming to San Francisco, I’ve changed how I dance and how I teach through just being in classes and rehearsals with people like Janice Garrett and Robert Moses. I performed in DC, New York, and Italy and since coming out here I performed with a lot of local companies, most recently with Garrett + Moulton Productions. I was a soloist with them from 2005 to 2012.

MK: Do you work with the youth program or adult classes here at ODC?

TB: I usually teach in the youth program and the teen program. I’m teaching for the pre-pro, but mostly the youth. I also help Kimi Okada with “Step on Stage,” and KT Nelson with “Velveteen Rabbit.”

MK: What do you try and communicate to your students?

TB: Creative expression and technicality. I think that within the given direction, most people are looking for their voice as well. It’s not like they’re just told what to do, but that they’re asked for their opinion, their ideas, and that’s really important here at ODC.

MK: What have you taken away or learned from teaching?

TB: You are always learning, and that as a teacher you’re learning as much as you are teaching. It’s a reciprocation between you and your students.

MK: Do you have a specific memory or moment that was particularly inspiring or significant for you?

TB: I think there are a lot of times that I can remember, but specifically? I think it’s always the “thank you’s” and when your students do get older, always seeing them as little ones, and then realizing how much they’ve grown. It’s always them coming back and saying “this is who I am, thank you for all you’ve done.” That always feels really great to see them grow.

MK: How has your class structure and teaching evolved over the years?

TB: It’s evolved a lot. I still hold on to the basic principles of modern technique, but you know here at ODC and in San Francisco in general, there is more room for exploration. It’s changed in the way that I’m bringing in more of that exploration component to my classes, giving my students the freedom to find how they move in space rather than always telling them how to move, whereas I was told what to do, and I was just trained to do it.

MK: What sets ODC apart from other dance centers and schools?

TB: That they do have their own theater and school and their own company and teen company as well. So it’s not just one part of the community, it encompasses a larger idea and a bigger vision; it creates that full circle. From when [students] are 4, all the way up to adults, there’s always something [for them]. I think it’s that idea of community and this full circle aspect, it’s like a campus, there’s nothing like it. Also, as I mentioned, I grew up and trained on the East coast. A lot of the training there is very specific; you’re either learning Graham, Limon, or Taylor. The training is very technical-based, at least that’s what I was around. So here, to see that the kids are getting contemporary at a much younger age, it’s fostering a different kind of artist than what I saw when I was growing up and I think it opens them up to understanding and enjoying it. That’s what I really like, you see kids here not just training, but they’re enjoying, they’re playing. It’s dance as play rather than dance as work.

MK: Any additional comments regarding ODC or teaching in general?

TB: I think to be able to work with teachers that are really high caliber is really amazing. Someone like Brian Fisher, it’s great to go into his class and really pick his brain and talk to the other teachers and see how we can better our own teaching skills and our own artistry to help the kids. The kids are so lucky to have the accompanists that they do, so that’s another aspect of ODC that not every school gets. These kids have access to the artists that are here, like Kimi and KT and Brenda, they’re attainable unlike in other places, and not just them but other working artists, like Janice Garrett. They’re so lucky. I don’t know if they realize how lucky they are.

Tanya currently teaches contemporary classes within ODC’s Youth and Teen program. 

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