World Dance Fusion Joins the Thriving Mission Dance Scene

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Katy Alaniz Rous began her dance career in ballet. Blessed with the hyper-extended legs and highly-arched feet that would make most ballet dancers envious, Rous trained on scholarship with San Francisco Ballet for nine years until she felt the company-track atmosphere no longer suited her. Though she continued her classical training for a year at City Ballet School, Rous found herself more and more fascinated by the world dance classes she took her junior year at San Francisco School of the Arts (SOTA).

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In one of those stories in which familiar youthful dreams morph into unexpected, more elaborate and grander ones, Rous pursued her studies of folk dance forms from countries such as India, Congo, Spain, Russia, Brazil, Turkey, and more - -even traveling when and where she could to not only learn the forms at their origin, but to imbibe the cultures that had generated them.

Rouz, who has never stopped "collecting" dance styles, started teaching and performing what she termed "World Dance Fusion" in 1995. I took a session in the summer of 2002. Katy would spend about half the class teaching an element of some distant style -- a Spanish rhythm to be stomped and clapped out, or Kathak foot and hand gestures, or a hip hop swan dive. She'd then use some of those elements in a combination that she'd build upon every class, until by the end of the program we had mastered a rather respectable routine we surely would have eagerly flashmobbed had that been a thing yet.

It wasn't just Terpsichorean tourism, either; Katy managed, in short periods of time and with students unfamiliar with these ways of moving, to teach both steps and the distinctive postures in such a way that I, for one, still remember. For instance, flamenco is nothing without that imperious posture -- no amount of foot stomping and hoarse wailing can compensate for a lazy spine. Kathak is just as extreme, but a bit more sensual, with a slight arch in the back which emphasizes the curves of the breast and bottom. Katy worked these variations into us while somehow making the complicated movements accessible. I can still hear, if not successfully stamp out, one rhythm we learned, and to this day show off my Kathak moves whenever they play Paper Planes or Truth Hurts on the dance floor.

Now at the helm of her own company, Rous has staged her own adaptation of the Nutcracker story -- this time from a Jewish angle -- in San Francisco for three years now. Incorporating Chinese fan dancing, Persian spinning, Acro yoga, break-dancing, flamenco, and ballet to tell the story of Hannukkah and illustrate the diversity of the Diaspora, World Dance Fusion has performed the Jewish Nutcracker to sold-out crowds thankful for both an alternative to the traditional story, and for a holiday-themed dance show not entirely focused on ballet (since the Rockettes aren't planning a West Coast tour any time soon).

Rous's perseverance is paying off: Her school and company are now seeking a permanent home in the Mission. The possible habitation by another dance school and company would represent an example of the neighborhood's evolution for the better. The onslaught of new trendy restaurants and the merciless rent battles threatening local bookshops makes the gentrification of the Mission a dubious victory, particularly as knife and gun crime doesn't seem to have noticed yet that the 'hood is supposed to be gentrified.

But the growth of the Mission as a hub of world dance is one that's hard to complain about: The area is already home to one of the Bay Area's most respected companies and schools, ODC and Rhythm and Motion Dance Program, Dance Mission Theater, which offers all-ages classes and is available to rent for performances, Fat Chance Belly Dance (the HQ of "American Tribal Style" belly dance), and Symbolic Dance and fitness, which offers classes on many dance forms including ballroom and partner dance. Butoh group Bad Unkl Sista and modern dance company Joe Goode Performance Group both perform at Z space. This is not to mention several restaurants in the area, such as El Valenciano, which offer regular classes and Salsa social evenings.

Rous's World Dance Fusion and the diversity of cultures it celebrates (while getting your ass in shape) should be right at home in the burgeoning dance mecca.

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