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PEOPLE : The Joy of Dance A Lesson Learned Well

January 03, 1991|EILEEN SONDAK

Faith Jensen-Ismay took her first steps toward a career in dance in high school. Now, she's sharing her skills with North County high school students who might otherwise never be exposed to her favorite art form.

Jensen-Ismay recalls how she more or less stumbled into dance.

"I couldn't get into a regular gym class at San Marcos High School, so I took a class with Paige Booth, a high school dance teacher who had barely started a dance program at the school. I was a jock at the time--with no training or interest in dance. I had done competitive baton twirling and a lot of athletics, including track," she said.

That exposure to dance, however, changed her life.

At age 19, Jensen-Ismay was off to Palomar College, where she polished her dance skills. And by the time she was 23, she was tagged to join the city's leading modern dance troupe, Three's Company.

But she never forgot her high school experience.

"Ever since I graduated, almost 10 years ago, I've been teaching in San Marcos High. For the last five years, I've assisted the teacher as director of the (annual) dance concert. A lot of our graduates move on either in dance or musical theater. Some join the dance program at Palomar or San Diego State University," Jensen-Ismay said.

Not many dancers are interested in going into the high schools, she said.

"Most of the kids only get high school gym, or at best they get to take workshops with visiting dancers," Jensen-Ismay said. "A lot of out-of-the-way places don't get dance teachers at all. I'm crazy enough to drive two hours just to teach for two hours, and then drive back."

Among the places she spreads the gospel of modern and jazz dance: Ramona, San Marcos, Rancho Buena Vista and Escondido. She also travels beyond North County, to San Bernadino and other outlying areas.

Last July, Jensen-Ismay trained high school teachers in North County through the California Assn. for Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. She has been invited to be an artist-in-residence in the schools in 1992.

Teaching dance and setting choreography for a burgeoning population of North County students is a full-time job, but Jensen-Ismay also performs in the nine-member Three's Company. She will dance in five of the six pieces slated for the opening of the troupe's 1991 season Jan. 10-13 at UCSD's Mandell Weiss Theater.

Jensen-Ismay said her best role in the upcoming concert is with Terry Wilson in "Red Dress/White Dress." She will also perform in two premiere works, "The Canopy" by Jean Isaacs, artistic director of the modern dance troupe, and "Torch" by Nancy McCaleb, associate artistic director.

"Faith is always noticed," Isaacs said. "She's really maturing as a dancer. . . . She knows when to hold back and when to let go. 'Red Dress' is her best showcase, but she's in everything. She's a real computer. Information comes in, and it comes out. Faith's dancing is beautiful."

Jensen-Ismay is also on the faculty at Palomar College, where she and some of her colleagues are laying the groundwork for a faculty-based dance group, dubbed Mojalet. The group name is a mix of the words modern, jazz and ballet, and is subtitled Dance Exists in North County.

"We're going to tour the high schools doing lecture demos and teaching master classes," she said. "We're in the process of getting nonprofit status, and we hope to present performances in the schools."

She is determined to repay her debt to the high school dance class that gave so much direction to her life.

"Working with the high schools has been a big focus for me," she said. The willowy, blond dancer knows from experience just how much exposure to professional dance and choreography can mean to a youngster.

Three's Company: Isaacs, McCaleb & Dancers, the dance troupe to which Jensen-Ismay belongs, will perform at 8 p.m. Jan 10-13 at UCSD's Mandell Weiss Theater. General admission is $15; students and seniors, $9. Calls: 296-9523

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