When Debbie Vallas, principal of Christ Cathedral Academy wanted to make use of the school’s magnificent Schuller-era dance studio, she knew just the right person to call. Susan Strader, philanthropist to many Diocesan endeavors as well as Orange County arts and culture organizations, agreed to help.
A large number of Christ Cathedral Academy students took advantage of the after-school programs at the school. Sports occupied most of the older students, but Vallas was looking for activities that would engage the younger students in a physical activity. Dance seemed to be right on point.
Strader went straight to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts to get recommendations. The search led to Strader’s friend Doug Freeman, executive chair and CEO of OC Music and Dance in Irvine, a nonprofit which bills itself as Orange County’s premiere community performing arts school for artists, performers, and dreamers. The studio is committed to providing training to students, regardless of their ability to pay. This commitment dove-tailed well with Christ Cathedral Academy’s mission: “The teachers, staff and parents of Christ Cathedral Academy are dedicated to nurturing the whole child – spiritually, intellectually, academically, social-emotionally, physically, and creatively.”
The academy’s dance studio is no typical school gym-turned-multipurpose room facility. When Rev. Schuler built the school, he included a first-rate, 1,000- square-foot studio designed strictly for dance, and a separate 1,000-square-foot music room.
“Debbie wanted to use the space to enhance the after-school program to offer summer dance classes,” said Strader. “Eventually we were able to put together a great program that is also affordable for students in the Garden Grove area.” Although the program was originally conceived for dance, it seemed natural to include vocal training as well. Having a separate dance studio and music room allows for simultaneous classes, and more student participation.
That connection and eventual collaboration has led to an exciting new opportunity, not only for the Christ Cathedral Academy students, but the program is also open to students from all Catholic schools in Orange County. As soon as the summer program was announced, classes started filling up and the first recital was in early July.
Mr. Kwang Nguyen, known as Mr. Kwang, is the program director. “We started the program this summer with two-week, three-hour sessions that will continue until school begins. We expect it will continue as an after-school program during the regular school year.”
During the summer, students were introduced to a variety of dance styles including ballet, Hip Hop, Folklorico-a Mexican folk dance with ballet influences. In addition to dance, students will also receive vocal training. “We wanted to include a singing class to give students exposure to both song and dance—they’ll get both music and rhythm,” adds Mr. Kwang.
The program has proved so popular that it may be offered to older students. The cost for each two-week session is $75.
Right now, the school has three instructors with 10-12 students per instructor, or 30-36 students per session. More instructors can be added as the program grows. Mr. Kwang noted that it is not just girls who are interested in participating, a lot of boys have signed up too. “We even have some of our ‘jocks’ in the program.”
When the after-school program begins in the fall, the sessions will be shorter but offered every day. All students are invited to participate from Kindergarten to Eighth Grade.
“This has already become a very popular extra-curricular activity,” said Mr. Kwang, “I think if other O.C. Catholic Schools wish to set up a similar program through OC Music and Dance they can contact the company for more specifics.”
Mr. Kwang believes that this program may be a great fit for other Diocesan schools. He suggests that principals who want more information should contact OC Music & Dance to find out more about the program and how it is set up at Christ Cathedral Academy – or they can visit the school and see the program first hand.
Christ Cathedral Academy is located on the grounds of Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove. As such, it is the only Diocesan school in the county that is not affiliated with a local parish. It offers a preschool and K-8 education. The school also offers summer sports training in volleyball and basketball.