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LEIMERT PARK : Dance Lovers Leap for Their Dream

February 07, 1993|ERIN J. AUBRY

With its unfinished floors, towering ceilings and sparse but eye-catching decor of African masks, the Dance Collective seems to embody its founders' ideal--a place with plenty of room to dance, but also one with enough space for cultural growth.

"This is a resource center for dance, but also a place to pursue our own projects," said executive director Pat Taylor. "This is a place for people who love to dance."

Taylor and Dance Collective co-founders Nzingha Camara and Lady Walquer Vereen, who opened the studio at 4327 S. Degnan Blvd. in November, say they want to instill that love of the art form in the black community, particularly for youths whose exposure to dance may be limited to music videos.

"There's been a hard, competitive edge to dance that needs to be broken," said Camara, 43. "We're getting back to that old feeling of really enjoying dance."

The collective, which has a teaching staff of six, offers classes in a wide range of styles, from traditional ballet and jazz to contemporary forms such as hip-hop and West African.

Prices for single classes range from $5 for children to $8 for 90-minute classes in the Dunham technique, a blend of ballet and African-based moves developed by the Katherine Dunham Dance Company.

"A lot of different dancers come through here--Brazilian, tap, jazz," said student Atir Sivad. "It's a really good resource for a lot of people in the community, where you can see what's going on."

In keeping with its philosophy of teaching the roots of dance forms, there is also drum instruction.

The collective's founders have backgrounds as varied as the classes.

Taylor, 33, a UCLA graduate, taught and choreographed traditional jazz in Europe. Vereen, sister of dancer and singer Ben Vereen, trained with the Katherine Dunham Dance Company and was instrumental in making its African-based technique widely adopted in modern dance. Camara specializes in the dances of Senegal, Guinea and Mali and has her own company, Le Ballet de Kouman Kele.

At the collective, Taylor teaches jazz, Vereen teaches ballet, movement and modeling and Camara conducts lessons in West African dance.

Taylor and Camara met while they were students of Vereen's during her seven years as a teacher at the Inner City Cultural Center in the 1970s. The three kept in touch over the years, and finally realized their dream of opening a studio last fall.

"One day last September I was walking by this space and it just hit me," Taylor said. "I had always wanted to do my own projects. Being hired as a teacher part time somewhere wasn't enough, financially or otherwise."

Brian Breye, whose Museum in Black occupied the property before moving to larger quarters two doors away, agreed to rent the space to the three women. Vereen said they started the Dance Collective with little besides "our talent and ourselves."

"All we knew is that we wanted somewhere to dance," she said. "We didn't know how important this was until after it got under way."

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