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Laguna Beach High’s new artistic director for dance steps in, in style

Estee Carrizosa is the new artistic director of dance at Laguna Beach High School.
(Don Leach, Coastline Pilot)

Estee Carrizosa started taking dance classes at age 2.

Today the 26-year-old remains committed to dance as an art form — only now, she’s also spreading that enthusiasm to others as the new artistic director of the Laguna Beach High School dance department.

“I’ve never stopped dancing,” Carrizosa said Monday in her office at the school’s studio.

Carrizosa, who grew up in central California, trained in her hometown of Visalia for 10 years on a competitive team for a private studio called Dancer’s Edge.

As a competitive dancer, she traveled to regional and national competitions such as New York City Dance Alliance and LA Dance Magic to perform routines in jazz, ballet, hip hop and lyrical. While competing, Carrizosa, by this point a Presidential Scholar, was accepted as a dance science major at Cal State Long Beach.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Presidential Scholars Program recognizes the academic achievements of distinguished graduating high school students.

During her college studies in dance and kinesiology, Carrizosa said, she reflected on her experience in high school. She knew she wanted to be a teacher and she knew she wanted to make dance class better for students.

After graduation, in 2010, she was hired to lead and develop the Burbank High School dance program. Under her stewardship, enrollment increased from 100 students and three levels of instruction to 450 students and four levels of instruction, Carrizosa said. She secured grants through the Burbank Arts for All Foundation to upgrade the dance room, and even when the classes carried over to the gymnasium, she rolled in mirrors so students could practice in any space available.

It’s those ideas and energy that she would like to bring to Laguna Beach High.

“I love organized chaos where the kids are learning and helping each other and I’m monitoring,” Carrizosa said. “It’s an exploratory space.”

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Men (and women) in black

Five, six, seven, eight.

“Use your abs, knee up,” said Samantha Hampton, assistant director of dance at Laguna Beach High, as she watched students stretch before mirrors. Hampton, who teaches dance fundamentals and health science, holds class until third period. Then Carrizosa teaches more advanced dance until seventh period.

Their dress code is simple: Wear all black and a leotard if possible.

“I like individuality,” Carrizosa said, adding that the recommended garb provides for ease of movement, is less distracting than street clothes and mirrors what the professionals wear.

Also, she noted, classroom rules are geared to helping students develop social skills, like respecting each other, the space, their teachers and guest choreographers.

Currently, the program has under 100 students in six periods.

Carrizosa would like to increase enrollment by making dance accessible. She would do this by offering all forms — including hip-hop, ballet, African, tap and historical styles — in the belief that the studio should be a place where students can feel a sense of belonging.

“A lot of times, students are looking for an outlet to express themselves, and I’m all for that,” Carrizosa said.

She would particularly like to expand enrollment in the two beginning-level classes in the morning to encourage novices and get them hooked.

“It’s about building a student’s self-confidence,” Carrizosa said. “It’s great if they learn dance moves, but their self-esteem means more to me.”

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‘We’re making it better’

She remembered a student who told her that since freshman year, her goal was to dance in a pep rally as a senior. When she did, people recognized her on campus.

“Her self-esteem went up a couple of notches, and that is so good,” said Carrizosa, who characterizes herself as “passionate about allowing all students to perform.”

The dancers from the program this year have also showcased learned movements at football games, building school pride as well as pride in themselves.

In spring, all levels of her performers will put on a student choreography showcase in front of an audience. And having directed two productions each year at Burbank High, Carrizosa — who is also busy as a graduate student at Cal State Long Beach — is preparing for the school’s winter dance concert Dec. 12 and 13.

“It’s called ‘Shift’ because we’re in a change and we’re making it better,” she said, referring to her stepping in as the department’s leader.

“These are the memories for high school students, and letting the community see them perform is amazing,” Carrizosa said. “I’m definitely grateful for the community helping and donating to the performing arts.”

If You Go

What: Laguna Beach High School Winter Dance Concert ‘Shift’

Where: Laguna Beach High School, 625 Park Ave.

When: 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 12 and 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13

Cost: $10 to $20

Information: (949) 497-7785, Ext. 1378, or visit lbusd.org/page/539


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