Rosalina Macisco of Santa Barbara Dance Institute with a class in the Franklin auditorium (Nov. 14, 2018)
Paul Wellman

“I love trying new things, anything that challenges me in new ways,” exclaims Rosalina Macisco breathlessly. “And I love providing that to children. I wanted to offer that experience to kids who don’t have parents to take them to dance studios.”

A choreographer, dancer, and instructor, Rosalina founded the Santa Barbara Dance Institute in 2005 with the belief that dance has the special ability to motivate children. “It’s the right of every child to experience the arts,” she exalts. “It can provide an outlet with a sense of safety.”

A nonprofit modeled after the National Dance Institute, SBDI facilitates “Teaching Artists” to serve entire grades and schools by creating a dance performance inspired by a particular year’s educational theme. The Teaching Artists are professional dancers, choreographers, musicians, and composers who are trained to run these in-school educational dance programs. The SBDI’s current partner schools include Solvang Elementary, Adelante Charter School, Aliso Elementary, and Querencia.

Rosalina Macisco was born in Westchester, New York, to a Puerto Rican mother and Italian father. She lovingly describes her household as being like West Side Story, “but Tony doesn’t die and they have a child.” Her parents’ passion and emotion made for a “fiery household,” recalls Rosalina, but “music and dance are what saved me and brought peace.” When she was eight, she wrote an essay that explained, “there’s nothing like putting your leg on a bar.” Says Rosalina, “I just loved dancing.”

Rosalina attended Fordham University, where she majored in theater and Spanish. After graduation, she appeared in off-Broadway plays, regional theater productions, national television commercials, and toured with several musical productions throughout Europe. In 2000, she moved to Los Angeles, but had a hard time adjusting after having lived in New York most of her life.

Once while visiting the Central Coast, Rosalina stopped by the Los Olivos Dance Gallery, where she learned they were looking for a dance instructor. Although she’d never taught or thought much about it, she accepted the gig without hesitation, realizing it was an opportunity to stay dancing. “I was going to keep dancing as long as I could,” she states. “Teaching was the thing.”

She lived and taught in Los Olivos for four years. “I loved it up there,” she says. “I’d wake up and make up dances and teach. The nature up there is beautiful.” Rosalina also pursued her teaching certification from the National Dance Institute with Catherine Oppenheimer in Santa Fe, New Mexico, then continued training in New York and with Finis Jhung at the Inland Pacific Ballet Academy in Claremont, California.

By 2002, Rosalina was making regular visits to Santa Barbara, for she loved Vanessa Isaac’s Afro-Brazilian dance classes with live drumming. When she eventually moved to our town, Rosalina hatched the idea of starting Santa Barbara Dance Institute. “I wanted to give back to the community,” she says.

Today, SBDI inspires countless kids to dance and express themselves, and she’s frequently fine-tuning the program. “Now I’ve decided to train P.E. teachers how to teach dance, and that’s going very well,” she explains. In Orcutt alone, she’s helped five elementary schools, and 2,000 students are dancing as a result of Rosalina’s effort.

Rosalina Macisco answers the Proust Questionnaire.

What do you like most about your job?

That it is a job I created so I can shape it, change it, morph it however I see fit. Running your own business can be overwhelming. It can also be fun. All of the ups and downs are of my own creation.

What is your motto?

Ahahah!!!! “Take your passion and make it happen,” from the movie Flashdance!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Laughing, really laughing with people. I love to connect in that way.

What is your greatest fear?

I am afraid of heights. For example, I can spontaneously cry when just sitting at the top of a cliff. I know I am safe. It has more to do with incredible lightness and quickness of life. Life is over before we know it!

Who do you most admire?

So many! I’ll mention one: La Bruja. She’s a Nuyorican (like me: New York-raised by Puerto Rican parents) singer, poet, and actress who also facilitates writing workshops for inner city youth. She is active in her art and also impacts others to express themselves and make change in the world.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Ugh, I am so practical. However, I love jewelry. I have some pieces from my mom and they are very special to me.

What is your current state of mind?

Hoping that whoever is reading this has fun. Time is fleeting.

What is the quality you most like in people?

I like how different people are. I like watching the body: how people walk, how they dance, how they sit.

What is the quality you most dislike in people?

I have a hard time when people are not in touch with themselves. They sound preachy and not authentic. I get bored.

What do you most value in friends?

Maybe you have heard this said before: Friends are people who know all about you but like you anyway.

What is your most marked characteristic?

I hear it is my smile. It is big and apparently makes people feel good.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Right, right, right, right. I’m from New York. I have picked up “it’s all good” since living in California.

Which talent would you most like to have?

To sing! I can get by, but I would love to be able to just let it pour out!

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

My ability to express myself in words. My friend Jen Boyd is very eloquent. I admire that.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

When I see a student’s light bulbs go off inside, I feel I have succeeded.

Where would you most like to live?

I guess it has never been about where I live but what I do. Santa Barbara sure is nice though, isn’t it?

What is your most treasured possession?

My mom’s jewelry and the artwork she collected. She has some beautiful pieces.

Who or what makes you laugh the most?

Who: My friend MaryPat Dowhy. What: When I try new things. Currently, I am attempting Capoeira with Contra Mestre Chin. It’s quite a sight. I crack myself up.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

The Queen from Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll.

“There is no use in trying,” said Alice. “One can’t believe impossible things.”

“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Or, for a “real” historical woman: Mary Edwards Walker, who lived from 1832 to 1919, and was an abolitionist, suffragette, prisoner of war, and surgeon. She was the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor from the U.S. Army. Wow, did she have an impact. Advocating for Dress Reform for women, she was arrested, mocked, and bullied many times for wearing men’s clothing. She states, “I don’t wear men’s clothes. I wear my own clothes.”

On what occasion do you lie?

Yeesh, maybe with adults who behave like children.


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