One year ago, UCSB grad Vicki Wang was living in the Silicon Valley, working as an account manager for a digital marketing company. It was a good job that made use of her BA in business and marketing, but it wasn’t her passion. What little free time she had she devoted to dancing. She took ballet and classical Chinese dance classes and even began performing with a Chinese dance troupe. When the first wave of job layoffs hit the region, Vicki was spared. Then came another wave, and another. Finally, in November 2010, the cuts reached her.
“There was initial shock and sadness,” Wang remembered, “but now I can say it’s actually been a good thing.”
Three months after opening her very own dance and martial arts studio in Old Town Goleta, Wang is feeling optimistic about all the changes of the past year. She spoke to me over coffee at Spudnuts, which occupies the street front at 5718 Hollister Avenue, where Sino West Performing Arts is based.
“I’m more fulfilled now by what I do,” the soft-spoken 28-year-old told me. “I actually look forward to getting up and putting my ideas in motion.”
Wang’s vision was to open a dance studio that would offer a wide range of classes to students of all ages and ability levels. The San Jose area was already super-saturated with dance studios, she believed, and so she began searching the Internet for real estate in Santa Barbara. She and her business partner moved to Santa Barbara in August of this year, secured a space, and started developing marketing materials and hiring specialist teachers. Sino West opened its doors in early October.
It was a massive leap of faith, but the results of Wang’s hard work are starting to show: She already has more than 30 regular students on the books, with newcomers showing up almost every day. In addition to classical Chinese dance and ballet, Sino West offers Zumba, salsa, jazz, and yoga, as well as classes in tai chi, Chinese boxing, acrobatics, and kung fu. There’s also a full schedule of dance and martial-arts classes for children. The point of such varied offerings, Wang says, is to attract a broad spectrum of students, from those who want a fun, stress-relieving workout to the more advanced dancers looking to expand their repertoires. After just two months of classes, Wang notes that the children who used to hide behind their mothers’ legs are now showing up eager to dance. “I think they’re learning self-confidence and learning to be more open,” she noted. “They’re finding out they can do things they never knew they could do.”
According to Wang, the process is similar with her adult students, who sometimes come in nervous about “getting it right,” but relax as soon as they realize it’s a nonthreatening environment.
As part of our interview, Wang offered to have me participate in a Chinese dance class taught by Dragon Sun, her business partner and the creative director at Sino West. “Dragon,” as everyone calls him, is a graduate of the prestigious Shenyang Conservatory of Music and Performing Arts in China. He teaches martial arts and Chinese dance at Sino West. Kung fu classes are held in the back studio, where weapons and uniforms decorate the walls and impact mats line the floor. Wang leads me to the bright, roomy front studio where dance classes are held. Chinese dance turns out to be not unlike ballet, but the movements are more fluid, the held positions more rounded than linear. Despite his namesake, Dragon is friendly and encouraging, even when our legs fail to extend as high as his do. His English is somewhat limited, so his feedback is minimal. “More ass,” he advises cheerfully at one point, pointing at me until I relax my lower back into a deeper curve. “Good,” he nods.
Among Sino West’s devoted students is Veronika Goodnight (aka Kit), who also teaches occasional hula-hoop workshops at the studios. I spoke with her after class about what keeps her coming back. “Vicki and Dragon are offering something really different in Santa Barbara,” she explained, adding that “they’re so hospitable — this place immediately felt like home.”
Sino West Performing Arts is located at 5718 Hollister Avenue in Old Town Goleta. For more information or for a complete class schedule, call 967-2983 or visit sinowestsb.com. For an example of the Chinese dance style taught at Sino West, check out youtube.com/watch?v=r_lsFq8yeY0.