By Karen Billing
There’s a new movement on the Torrey Pines High School campus and you’ll find it in the dance studio. Dressed all in black, the students there are engaged, lively and happy to be in a classroom free of desks where they can express themselves through dance.
On their birthdays they have to use their bodies to spell out their names in front of the class — yes, even a “W” is possible with this crew.
Last week the sea of black T-shirts was accessorized by a stream of tulle as tutus were trimmed for the big upcoming school dance show, the Expression Session. To be held on June 11 at 7 p.m. in the school gym, the year-end showcase will also feature art and film in addition to 24 choreographed dances ranging from hip hop to modern to a fun tribute to “*NSYNC.”
Torrey Pines may be known more for athletics than art, but this year the dance team was among the sports teams bringing home championships. The lyrical and jazz group won the Dance Drill Nationals in Anaheim on March 27.
The dance department’s building hype and winning ways could be attributed to director Sarah Kaye, who joined the staff two years ago and has watched excitedly as she has tripled the number of students taking dance.
Kaye was a professional dancer for over 20 years, dancing modern and ballet locally with McCaleb Dance in La Jolla and the Mojalet Dance Collective. She retired in 2006, her body tired from years of fulfilling her childhood dream.
After Kaye was hired on as a guest artist at Canyon Crest Academy, she realized she really enjoyed the experience of teaching dance so she went back to school to get her teaching credential, finally landing at Torrey Pines.
“I love it here, I couldn’t be happier,” Kaye said of her duties teaching “dance PE” and dance teams.
Kaye has worked hard to incorporate modern dance and new forms of movement into the curriculum. At first the students resisted, it took them awhile to open their minds to it and for Kaye to break through.
“It’s so different,” said junior dancer Perry Katz. “At first I was confused and thought it was weird but it taught me more about my dancing because modern is the core for every style. I really do respect her for teaching us that.”
Kaye said she hopes to never stop pushing and challenging her students to try new things.
“The one thing I learned, being a new teacher, was the more you expect, the more you get from the kids,” Kaye said. “I’ve been relentless on discipline and they’ve produced a lot more work, they’ve grown and gotten better.”
This year 96 students showed up to audition for the dance team. With the interest up and talent high, Kaye was able to field a JV and varsity dance team.
The dance team has 50 members, performing as spirited halftime entertainment at football games and also making appearances this year at basketball and lacrosse games.
Since 2005, the dance team has also had coach Michael Langford, a professional in hip hop, modern and jazz, who also runs his own dance company in San Diego called On the Edge Dance Company.
Langford handles the hip hop, getting students to pop, lock and do work.
The dance department also has a 10-member hip hop crew—“We have b-boys!” Kaye exclaimed in amazement, referencing their talented and very popular break dancers. “That’s why I love it here, it’s just so exciting.”
The small jazz and lyrical group was the one that made school history at the Dance Drill Nationals, bringing the huge first place trophy and the judge’s award of excellence back to the Torrey Pines studio.
“They’re the dream team,” said Kaye.
The team includes Tara Aftahi, Caylee Shimizu, Madison Tencer, Alyssa Wright, Kelsey Richards, Perry Katz and Janelle Wen—seven girls, all best friends who are drama free and committed to dance, Kaye said.
At the competition they performed two award-winning routines, winning first place in lyrical with an emotional routine that “makes you cry it’s so beautiful,” Kaye said.
They won third place in jazz performing the “Witches of Oz,” a modern, funky piece with Dorothy twisting through a tornado of six wicked witches.
The girls all broke down in tears when they won the competition.
“This year has been my favorite part of all four years of dance,” said senior Kelsey Richards. “It was really satisfying to win after four years of a lot of pain and suffering,”
Both routines will be performed at the “Expression Session,” giving the audience a little peek at the new movement at Torrey Pines.
“I want to show the routines off,” said Kelsey, who is headed to Notre Dame in the fall. “I’m really excited to do them again because I want the entire school to see them.”
Tickets cost $5. To learn more about Torrey Pines Dance, call (858) 755-0125 or visit