This Sunday, May 19, nearly 300 students from Santa Barbara County public schools will take part in The Voice Inside, an original dance theater production at the Marjorie Luke Theatre. It’s the seventh consecutive year that the Santa Barbara Dance Institute (SBDI) has put on such an ambitious end-of-year performance, complete with original script, guest artists, and professional lighting, sound, and projection. Coordinating so many children and teachers, parents and volunteers, costumes and stage cues is a serious feat, and yet the annual show is just a small piece of what SBDI offers the community each year.
Before the stage nerves, the thrill of the spotlight, and the joyous grand finale come hours and hours of class time, when SBDI director Rosalina Macisco and her team of instructors teach students how to strive for excellence, how to experience the joy of dancing, and most important of all, how to be connected — both with themselves and with each other.
Connection has been a theme for Macisco ever since she started teaching, but it has taken on deeper significance this year. The story of The Voice Inside begins last summer, when Macisco was visiting family in Puerto Rico. Her aunt, niece, and nephew had left the house just a few minutes ago when she got a phone call. “Come quickly, come quickly!” her aunt was screaming.
Macisco arrived to discover that her 17-year-old nephew Stefano had been shot in an attempted carjacking. He died three days later.
In the weeks and months since then, Macisco has tried to make sense of what happened. “How does anyone take a gun and actually point it at someone and pull the trigger?” she asked last week. “You must be so disconnected from your heart, your soul, your essence — your conscience. It got me thinking: I want the children I teach to understand that connection.”
And so, back in Santa Barbara for the start of the 2012-2013 academic year, Macisco focused on incorporating this life lesson into her dance classes.
Currently, SBDI offers dance as part of the curriculum at four Title 1 elementary schools in the county: Aliso and Canalino in Carpinteria, and Harding and Adelante in Santa Barbara. They also offer classes at Solvang School. The students who take part in these yearlong courses range from 3rd to 6th grade. SBDI also offers after-school classes for teens through Querencia Santa Barbara, an after-school program on the lower Eastside.
In the case of her younger students, Macisco didn’t want to talk to them directly about her nephew’s murder. Instead, she began by saying, “When you wake up in the morning, you listen to your parents. Then you get to school and you listen to your teachers. But who else do you need to listen to?”
“They’d usually come up with ‘friends,’ and I’d say, yes, and then some of them would say, ‘God,’ and I’d say, yes, and eventually they’d come around to, ‘myself, my conscience,’” Macisco said.
Having a dance teacher talk about listening to one’s conscience and acting with integrity no doubt makes an impact on students, but Macisco also motivates by example. With her high-wattage smile, bouncy curls, and boundless physical energy, she’s perfectly suited to inspire kids. Add to that her dance skills, her pop-music fluency, and her rapid-fire native Spanish — the majority of her students are from Spanish-speaking families — and it’s hard to imagine anyone better equipped to earn the respect of these kids.
Among Macisco’s devotees is Marisol, an 8th grader at Santa Barbara Junior High. She has been dancing with SBDI since 3rd grade, and says she likes the fact that she can use dance to interact with friends. “If you go to some place, you don’t want to be just sitting there,” she said. “You want to participate in what other people are doing.”
Sixteen-year-old Luisa echoed that sentiment. “It helps me communicate with people,” she said. For Luisa and Marisol, as for so many SBDI students, the end-of-year show was the first time they’d ever been on a stage. Now, they’re experienced dancers who look forward to class each week and to performing each spring, when they get to connect to the larger network of SBDI students.
Putting on such a large-scale production with this many kids requires extensive planning and coordination — especially as SBDI expands to more schools — and Macisco actively seeks support from the greater arts community. This year, director and playwright Rod Lathim has again cowritten the script, while former production chair of the SBCC Theatre Group Rick Mokler has come on board to help produce The Voice Inside.
As Macisco talks through the show, enumerating each dance and its corresponding song (among them Katy Perry’s “Firework” and Rihanna’s “Diamonds”), she doesn’t seem that worried about bringing it all together. What causes her more concern is how she’ll react when she sees Stefano’s grandparents in the audience. The Voice Inside is dedicated to her nephew’s memory, and though most of the young performers don’t know his story, they’ll be dancing out the message Macisco has taken from his too-short life: Be who you are, stay connected to your heart, and listen to the voice inside.
Santa Barbara Dance Institute will present The Voice Inside at the Marjorie Luke Theatre (721 E. Cota St.) on Sunday, May 19, at 3 p.m. To purchase tickets, call 963-0761 or visit lobero.com. For more on SBDI, visit sbdi.org.