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LDF Summer Dance Intensive: “Moving Together in Person” faculty reception


Photos by Jeff Rovner

From June 14-19, Laguna Dance Festival (LDF), in collaboration with Orange County Music and Dance, held an intensive week of daily in-person dance classes within small cohorts. Taught by world-famous instructors, classes included Repertory, Contemporary, Jazz, Composition, Seminar, Conditioning, and Ballet. 

Under the direction of Laguna Dance Festival’s Founder and Artistic Director Jodie Gates, this specialized program brought eight internationally renowned dance artists to Orange County, providing opportunities for students to be immersed in the highest level of training and artistic exploration.

Forty-five intermediate, pre-professional, and collegiate level dance students experienced six full days of technique training, artistic development, career mentorship, and professional networking opportunities. 

“To be in person with these artists is pretty remarkable,” said Gates. 

LDF Jodie and OC dance guy

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Doug Freeman, CEO of OC Music & Dance, and LDF Founder and Artistic Director Jodie Gates

OC Music & Dance is a premier nonprofit community performing arts school, with a diverse student body of over 400 children, ranging in ages from 18 months to 18 years old. Through its financial assistance program, OCMD aims to make the arts accessible to every child, regardless of their family’s ability to pay. 

“We used to have the intensives at the high school, but this space gives us more room and opportunity to have several things going on at once,” said Deena Harros, Operations Manager. “The instructors are idols to these kids. This year we gave out seven scholarships.” 

This year’s prestigious faculty roster featured Fiona Lummis, an artist from Nederlands Dans Theater and stager for Jiri Kylian’s repertory, Jermaine Spivey, contemporary choreographer and artist with Kidd Pivot, and Maria Kowroski, a principal dancer from New York City Ballet, Krystal Matsuyama, Justin Pham, Spenser Theberge, and Jodie Gates. 

“The opportunity to be professionals and to be able to give back is what we do and what we love to do, and so nice to do it in a beautiful setting with such generosity in the air,” said Lummis. “The students are very receptive. There’s a respect that is amazing. They’re so respectful. I’m impressed with their discipline.” 

LDF four teachers

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(L-R) Maria Kowroski, Spenser Theberge, Jermaine Spivey, and Fiona Lummis

“We always try to bring a little tutu, but we also aim to be contemporary,” said Executive Director Joy Dittberner. “Some of the dances might be a little edgy and maybe not everyone will like it, but you’ll be exposed to it. It won’t all be just ballet. It’ll be a mixture.” 

“They start with ballet class, then they have contemporary, then they have repertory, then they have a lecture/seminar or conditioning for their bodies,” said Gates. “The lectures are some of my favorites, to be able to talk about how you are doing as a young person.” 

LDF board

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Laguna Dance Festival Board and dance instructors

Special mention goes out to the LDF Board, which has been so supportive, enthusiastic, and appreciative, as well as awarding scholarships to kids in need.

This Dance Intensive Workshop was particularly significant for Gates, “It’s important to mark this moment in time, because it’s been a hell of a 15 months. It’s important to understand what a moment this has been for us, to be in the room – wearing masks even though we’re all vaccinated – to be in this space with 45 students. We have three cohorts running simultaneously, none of the students had to audition, even the scholarship students. They’re courageous, they’re in it to win it, and it’s been a moment of complete joy.” 

LDF Maria

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Maria Kowroski is retiring this year as the principal ballerina for the New York City Ballet. She has a solo show on October 17 at Lincoln Center.

 “One of the things that will stay with me from the week is our talks about leadership,” said Gates. “None of us have to take a backseat. We can all contribute to our future, to the future. I tried to give them a sense of autonomy. In ballet, we’re taught to sit back and not talk. But I want to make sure that they know they can advocate for themselves and advocate for what they want.” 

In response to Gates’ question to Spenser Theberge, “Not only are these teachers incredible dancers, but they’re incredible educators and teachers. What did you talk to your class about? They were transported. What did you say to them?” 

LDF two guys

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Spenser Theberge (on left) and Jermaine Spivey

Theberge responded, “We started class by talking about through-lines. I was curious to hear anything that popped out that seemed familiar or language that was shared, it’s all connected and all contributing to the capital ‘D’ in dance. We’re not a ballet self, a contemporary self, or a salsa self. It’s all connected. I try to encourage those connections because that helps sustain you.” 

“And then I loved just watching them play,” Theberge added. “That was beautiful. We talked about looking for space in the room that was empty, opportunities of places to go, and trying to relate that to other people. I told them to look for the spaces between people, and then to be there. I encouraged them to make yourself important by making others important. 

“When you’re teaching, you get to say, ‘This is what I believe,’ and hope people get on board. This is my lens. This is what I think. You don’t have to think that, but let’s just try it.” 

LDF Fiona

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Fiona Lummis

“Coming back to the studio, we have to be generous with each other. Do that with other people,” said Theberge.

Gates noted, “I try to reach students one student at a time. I had a moment with one such student and that will stand out to me.” 

Since 2005, the award-winning Laguna Dance Festival has presented world-class dance performances in theaters, film, and public spaces, reaching thousands annually and exposing new audiences to professional concert dance. Laguna Dance Festival is a nonprofit organization deeply dedicated to the arts and community. The organization is committed to collaboration, dance presentation, and education through an artistic lens that strategizes innovative ways to commission artists, educate young dancers, and unite people of all ages and cultures. 

LDF will hold another winter intensive in December.

For more information on Laguna Dance Festival, go to


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