HDC founders Catalina Alexandra, JoDee Engle and Courtney D. Jones.
Photos courtesy of Houston Dance Collective.
Never underestimate the power of three determined modern dancers who cherish their morning class. Houston dancers Courtney Jones, Catalina Alexandra and JoDee Engle founded Houston Dance Collective a year ago, and they are ready to dance and party for their one-year anniversary and fundraiser on May, 22, 10-11:30 at The Barn, Dance Source Houston‘s performing arts space.
HDC offers classes on Wednesdays and Fridays at The Barn, 10-11:30am with a rotating roster of teachers for the low cost of $10 a class. The idea is to foster the work ethic of daily class, and provide this opportunity for local professionals, dance students home from college or grad school, and artists on tour. The enterprise has proved a great way for local dancers to get to know each other and keep up their training.
Over the year, the trio has been successful in getting the word out via their savvy social media strategy. It’s not unusual to see photos posted right after class touting “who joined the Collective.” Dancers are proud to let the world know that they are keeping up their daily training. HDC has also provided a chance for local dancers to hone their teaching chops.
On May 22, their regularly scheduled Professional/Advanced Modern technique class will be taught by HDC Instructor Candace Rattliff, who taught the very first class.
Class that day will be only $1, but HDC will happily accept any and all donations, which will go directly toward the continuation of providing professional services for the Houston dance community. And, of course, there will be cake and refreshments. A + C Editor in Chief Nancy Wozny visited with HDC founders Courtney D. Jones, Catalina Alexandra and JoDee Engle on the occasion, their passion for daily training and what’s ahead.
Congrats on making it to your one year anniversary. How does it feel?
Courtney Jones: Honestly, the year flew by! I feel like I’m always saying wait, is this happening? But it feels great. If I contribute nothing else to the dance community in Houston, The Collective by far is the one thing I’m most proud of since moving back. I love performing and teaching, don’t get me wrong, those in many respects feed my ego albeit artistically, but this venture feels like a deeper gift, it’s hard to explain.
Catalina Alexandra: Growth and a lot of learning. Stronger friendships and a lot more listening.
JoDee Engle: It feels great. The three of us have grown so much closer and have such a strong connection with each other that is rooted in our passion for dance and for HDC’s mission. I think we are all ending this year feeling energized, inspired, and excited for what’s to come.
What would you say HDC’s greatest accomplishments have been this past year?
CJ: Well, you know that I’m a huge advocate for continued professional training, so I just feel like I’m putting my money where my mouth is, so to speak.
CA: Action! Moving forward with something that might have seemed crazy at the moment.
JD: We did it! We had this little idea and had no idea if it would work or how people would respond, but we did it anyway. Also, I have loved seeing all of the new connections being made between the dancers/teachers/choreographers. People will hang around and talk after classes and find out they are from the same town, or that they have mutual friends, then they make plans to stay connected. That’s what the Collective is all about!
What were the challenges?
CJ: Anyone who runs any type of dance studio will tell you, adult classes are tricky, and we’re basing our classes solely on adults. And that means inconsistency. I mean, let’s be honest, it’s not easy getting up to go take a class when you’ve got “life” stuff happening. But it’s always worth it once you get there and have that feeling of accomplishment.
CA: Trusting and accepting the surprise.
JE: For me, the biggest challenge has been staying the course on those days/weeks when attendance was low or things didn’t go exactly as planned. The fear in me would want to question whether or not we were offering the right classes, or inviting the right teachers, or are classes held at the best time or on the best days. But the truth is, there are gonna be slow days and there are gonna be days where you have happy dancers from wall to wall. In the end, I always have known that we are definitely doing something that is valuable.
The Winter Intensive was a smashing success. Did that surprise you?
CJ: I have to laugh at this one because all we wanted to do was get nine people to register for the full three-day Winter Intensive. That would have covered the cost of the rental space and the instructors. JoDee might know the exact numbers because she handled pre-registration, but let’s just say once it became clear we would not only make but exceed our goal I was beyond floored. Cata will probably say she wasn’t surprised at all. I love that about her, but this slightly pessimistic Virgo has to see it to believe it, and every day of the Intensive felt like a brand new surprise.
JE: I knew it would be successful, even if we only had 10 people in the studio. But to see 30+ dancers in each class that last day, ranging from ages 15-43, all together sharing their passion was more than I ever dreamed of.
When dancers leave school, daily class is a struggle. How do we get the idea across that dancers need to train daily engrained in small dance communities?
CJ: HDC is my response to trying to get that idea engrained in small dance communities. When I was on tour, I was able to find morning to mid-afternoon professional level classes in most cities that I visited. I worry that the reason young dancers who train here (and I was one of them) leave is because they fear there are limited professional opportunities for them to apply all the knowledge they’ve acquired at their studios and universities.
I also believe the reason Houston might be left out of the conversation of a city where professionals relocate to work and train could be if nothing else helped by at least having professional level classes in addition to performance opportunities. I’m not saying HDC has all the answers or that it is the only organization in Houston providing these things, because that isn’t the case, there are a number of us out there and we are just happy to join them. I was fortunate after graduating to dance with companies that provided free company class. This is actually the first year I have ever paid for classes (and yes we as Co-Founders do pay to take the HDC classes because we want our instructors to feel empowered and that their time is valuable). But it is also why we chose to keep the cost as low as we could at $10.
JE: I think all we can do is continue to offer amazing classes that are relevant today, from instructors that are out working in the field. One of the reasons I love our photos that we post after each class of the people that “joined the Collective” that day is that it shows other dancers (both young and old) that professionals do take class on a regular basis, that they make it a priority, and that it is possible.
All kinds of teachers have come through HDC. What were some of the range of styles that dancers experienced?
JE: Oh goodness! This is my favorite part of what we do. Modern dance, from a strict Paul Taylor and Horton class, all the way to more current styles, including a few dancers from William Forsythe backgrounds, and a few Gaga classes thrown in as well. We’ve had some jazz from Dawn Dipple, contemporary jazz from Marlana Doyle, Max Jones came in and taught a musical theater class, and then we had Houston Ballet’s Connor Walsh teach ballet for our Winter Intensive.
What are your plans for year two?
CJ: Oh man, there’s a part of me that feels like we just have to continue letting this thing plan itself because that seems to be working but, I did mention I’m a Virgo right? So there are plans, we’ve played with the idea of putting together some sort of concert performance highlighting HDC instructors and their companies. I hope for another successful Winter Intensive and to reach a point where we are able to invite and accommodate teachers from all over because Houston has talented dancers that deserve great classes from widely recognized and diverse instructors! Oh, and seeing more and more people join The Collective!
CA: One step at a time. Adjusting and changing as the needs adjust and change. You must be flexible without expectations.
JE:I think we’ve all been so excited about the fact that we made it to year one, that we haven’t really made it a point to sit down and talk about goals for year two. I would, of course, love to continue to offer the great classes that, I think, people now come to expect, and continue to bring in new instructors.