Program uses hip-hop and street dance to get Santa Barbara County students excited about theater

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It’s a fun experience for more than a thousand Santa Barbara County students, as they learn about the history of hip-hop and street dance, Many of them are also getting their first live theater experience.

The Los Angeles based dance ensemble Versa-Style is at Santa Barbara’s Granada Theater, doing a show on the origins of Hip-Hop.

“We want the kids to have a first-hand experience coming to the theater for the first time. A lot of kids have never been to the theater before,” said Ashley Green. She is the Education Programs Coordinator with UC Santa Barbara’s Arts and Lectures, which is sponsoring the event.

The idea is to give these 10 to 15 year olds a taste of the arts that’s relatable.

Richie Inda is a student at La Patera Elementary School, in Goleta.
“It’s been really fun. Hip-hop is like a bunch of different cultures, like black and brown communities…the dance moves are really cool to me,” said Inda.

Versa-Style was founded by Jackie Lopez, who went by Miss Funk in her street dancing days.

“It was created in 2005, in Los Angeles. The dancers you saw on stage are all from LA…students I’ve met through middle school, high school, and even college,” said Lopez.

She’s now a dance professor at UCLA. The non-profit ensemble she founded is intended to take the hip-hop, and street dance culture out into the community. What does she hope kids get from the experience?

“The beauty that hip-hop, and street dance has been able to bring. Beauty, and depth, and diversity,” said Lopez.

“Our goal is always to inspire at least one child about the possibilities of pursuing an artistic, creative career,” said Brandon Juezean. He’s one of the Versa-Style dancers. “We want to get into schools, and educational institutions.”

The dance ensemble travels around the country doing performances, but Wayzon says they love doing special performances, and workshops for kids.

The program is interactive, and gets the kids up on their feet participating. They learn some basic moves. Intermixed with the fun are stories about hip hop and street dance culture.

With the 50th anniversary of hip-hop being celebrated this year, the performance also hits home with some of the teachers, and parents here. Marilyn Jones is a La Colina Junior High School staff member.

“It brought me back, and I lived it…and it’s nice to see it still around,” said Jones.

While this show is focused on music and dance, the hope is that it will help open the door to kids to arts, and culture.

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