Photograph by Michael Amsler
Hoofin' It: The Dance Center's director Vicky Suemnicht.
By David Templeton
Inside the lobby of Santa Rosa's 30-year-old Dance Center, located in an old warehouse near Railroad Square, there stands a massive display case, crammed with trophies and ribbons awarded to the studio and its dancers over the course of its three decades of existence in the community. According to Vicky Suemnicht, director, founder and owner of the Dance Center, the case contains only about one-third of the awards the studio has won.
She also says that while awards are nice and everything, they're not what the Dance Center—or dance itself—is all about.
"Compared to a lot of studios, we are really not about competition. It's not a huge part of my philosophy," Suemnicht says. "If a young dancer wants to win a lot of trophies, this is not the studio for them. I feel strongly that what's important is the training, the development of technique—and competition can be a distraction. We compete on occasion, and we usually do well, but our focus is on having fun, on developing the students as dancers, and preparing them for whatever it is they want to do next."
Suemnicht, a longtime dancer, teacher and choreographer whose choreography work is often seen onstage at the neighboring Sixth Street Playhouse, started the Dance Center in 1977 (it was known then as the Tap Studio), establishing the studio in a corner of the Lincoln Arts Center, just around the corner from where she is now. On a weekly basis, hundreds of students, from four-year-olds on up to senior citizens, walk through those doors and past those trophies, dispersing into classes that cover the spectrum of modern American dance: tap, jazz, ballet, musical theater, hip-hop and modern. Suemnicht cannot give an exact number of the people who have learned to dance at the Dance Center, but, including the hundreds who've grown up dancing there (every year the Center gives out scores of 15-year pins to longtime students), one could safely put the number in the thousands.
The attraction, aside from the primal appeal of dance and the lure of a comfortable, friendly place to practice, is Suemnicht herself, a tireless advocate for the art of coordinated physical expression, and a first-rate teacher whose positive attitude and supportive approach have made the difference in coaxing plenty of young people to give their all to the craft of dance.
"Dance is such a great activity, for kids and adults," she says. "It's a great skill to have, and it feels good. Tap dancing is an especially helpful thing to know. I tell our students all the time, whenever I'm having a stressful day, or when I'm uptight about something, if I just let loose and tap dance for five minutes, I feel a lot better. We see kids tap dancing their way out of bad moods here all the time. Dance is very therapeutic."
In addition to the classes, staffed by a small army of instructors, the Dance Center boasts seven dance companies that perform around the Bay Area. Each year since 2003, Suemnicht has taken a company of dancers to Jeju City, Santa Rosa's sister city in South Korea, to perform at the annual Fire Festival. While most of her students learn dance for the sheer pleasure of it, the Center has had a fairly high percentage of students who, after graduation from high school, continue taking dance in college, or go out and get jobs as dancers in touring companies or on cruise ships.
"Dance is a challenging career, it's a challenging life," she says. "Yes, some of our students choose to go on and make dance their profession, but most of them, the kids who grow up dancing here, don't go that direction. But dance is still in them, it's in their hearts and they tend to find ways to keep dance as a part of their lives."
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