Creating a safe space to learn: A conversation with Raffaella Falchi | By Maya Kitayama

Raffaella Falchi Photo by David Yu

Raffaella Falchi
Photo by David Yu

Maya Kitayama: Can you speak about your training and performing experience?

Raffaella Falchi: I am the artistic director of Sambaxé Dance Company, which was founded in 2008. I am not only a director, but also an educator, architect, dancer, choreographer, and I have a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley, and a MArch from California College of the Arts. I started studying Brazilian dance in 1996 and since then I have studied extensively with dancers and choreographers based in Rio de Janeiro and Bahia, Brazil, such as Rosangela Silvestre. I’ve been teaching and performing Brazilian-inspired movement and dance in San Francisco for the past decade and I continually strive to share Brazilian culture through live music and dance. I’ve performed in several cultural performances and festivals including the Cuba Caribe Festival and Spirit of Brazil Productions. ODC actually accepted me into the Pilot 64 program in 2014, and I was able to present new works featuring live music. Right now, I’m the director of programs at Youth Art Exchange, which offers free visual and performing arts classes to San Francisco public high school students.

MK: What do you consider important to communicate to your students in class?

RF: There isn’t a right way or wrong way to dance. My dance class is a sacred and safe space for everyone to explore movement without any judgement. I want my students to let all their preconceived notions go once they walk through the dance studio door, whether it be a difficult day, negative emotions, sadness or anything else. I want them to tune into their bodies and the rhythm of the drums for the duration of the class, because I guarantee they will leave class with an elevated spirit and feeling more joyful.

MK: What have you learned personally from teaching?

RF: I have learned that it’s always important to remember what it was like to be a student and remember to teach others from that perspective. I have also learned that it is always important to constantly do a “temperature check” in the classroom to always gauge where the students are at and always be willing to change how and what you are teaching in order to meet them where they’re at and keep them engaged and challenged.

MK: Do you have a specific moment or memory from teaching that has been particularly inspiring or significant for you?

RF: One favorite moment I had was when I walked into my Friday night class at ODC feeling tired from working all day and posted in the middle of the mirror was an anonymous note written to me saying, “Dear Raffaella, Thank you for teaching us to dance. I love who I am in your class each week.” This really touched me and lifted my spirit. I will never forget that note and the countless other cards and letters I have received over the years from students recounting how therapeutic my dance class has been for them, especially for getting through hard times in their lives. I am happy to know that my class has become a source of therapy for many. I also love the moments when you watch a student have their “a-ha” moment where everything clicks for them and they stop just thinking about the dance and actually disconnect from their mind and start feeling the dance and movement. It’s truly inspiring to watch that process.

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

RF: It is a very inviting space and has a professional feel to it, as well as having a great offering of both contemporary, traditional, and global dance classes. It has a wonderful community sense and the caliber of artists are top-notch.

Raffaella teaches an intermediate Samba class at 8:30pm on Wednesday evenings, as well as a beginner/open Samba class at 6pm on Fridays. 

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