How Two Dance Majors are Committed to Giving Back Beyond the Bluff

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In April, children from the Mar Vista Family Center visited LMU to perform a dance and watch a special rehearsal for the LMU Spring Dance Concert.

For Caeli Koizumi ‘17 and Clare Sitzer ’17, dance doesn’t – and shouldn’t – exist just as entertainment. Throughout their time at LMU, both dance majors have become deeply committed to using their dance training in innovative ways to help underserved children both locally and abroad.

The two students have donated countless hours of their time to the Mar Vista Family Center and to LMU’s National Dance Education Organization (NDEO) Student Chapter, which received an award for Outstanding Philanthropic Program from LMU Student Leadership and Development in 2016. But that spirit of giving won’t end with graduation – both intend to pursue careers expanding the work they have already done reaching out to the community through dance.

The two dancers found a passion for dance education in their roles as volunteer instructors at the Mar Vista Family Center. Clare started the program through her service organization, Creare, and has continued to expand the program by bringing in other dancers from LMU to facilitate classes. Caeli is one of those dancers, and teaches class to bilingual and English as a second language students at the center. In April, students from the center and their families were invited to LMU to perform the dances they have been working on with Clare and Caeli.

Clare’s service has been recognized multiple times – most recently by being presented with the 2017 Arete Award and the 2017 Riordan Community Service Award, which were both awarded to her by the Center for Service and Action for her work at the Family Center. Clare has also taught contemporary dance to students at Gabriella Charter School, a local middle and elementary school. In addition, she was featured at this year’s undergraduate research symposium, presenting on the teaching strategies she has developed from her work at the Family Center and middle school.

The summer after her freshman year, Caeli went on a trip to Panama to teach dance to children in orphanages. This trip was an influential first step that would guide her interest in dance education. “It’s all about arts advocacy and arts accessibility,” Caeli said. “These kids have had a lot taken from them, and they haven’t had the privilege of what I’ve had – to dance in a studio. Dance can bring such joy and it can help kids break out of their shell. I witnessed this over and over during my trip.”

Caeli has continued her work in dance education throughout her undergraduate career. She and Clare both attended a CFA-funded dance teacher training program, and more recently she presented her research on dance education during the undergraduate research symposium. Looking forward, Caeli was awarded a grant from the University Honors Program to pursue a research fellowship she calls, “Dancing at My Desk: Examining the Foundations of a Nonprofit Dance Education Organization,” which she will begin this summer. As part of this fellowship, Caeli will travel around Southern California conducting research on crucial elements of a successful dance education program. In doing so, she hopes to gather experience and expertise that will eventually translate into starting her own program.

Clare, who has been accepted into Teach for America and will begin working as a teacher in August, plans to use her background in dance to inform her upcoming career in special education. “I’m excited about the potential for dance to help teach core curriculum subjects. How can I use dance to teach about the gold rush? How can I use dance to teach about quantum physics? There’s so much depth in dance that I think it’s the perfect tool for kids who don’t want to sit in a desk. Every child has a different background and set of experiences or challenges, but dance is a way that we can unite everyone toward a common goal.”