As part of our continuing series featuring artists performing on stage at the Aratani Theatre, JACCC's Director of Performing Arts & Community Engagement Alison De La Cruz sat down with Allison Tanaka Executive Director and Sonia Park Company Director of Culture Shock LA in advance of the launching of the Aratani World Series on February 11, 2017 at the Aratani Theatre featuring Versa Style and Culture Shock LA. 

Alison De La Cruz: Tell me about Culture Shock LA and your roles in the company.

Allison Tanaka: Culture Shock LA is very much a collective. I function as the Executive Director and collaborate with Sonia Park our Company Director. When it comes to creative direction – it is the Creative Team, consisting of an artistic director and 3 creative directors, that work together to guide our creative vision.

AD: How long have you been ED of Culture Shock?

Allison: I’ve been in involved with the organization for about 15 years and have served as the ED for 5 years. I started as a dancer, was asked to take on admin directorship, became program director and then took on executive directorship.

AD: What about you Sonia, how long have you been with Culture Shock?

Sonia Park: Ahh, the years kind of blend together. I joined in 2012, so this will be my 5th year with the organization. I first came in as a company member, recruited as a special events coordinator, transitioned into the Marketing Director, and returned this season as the Company Director.

Allison: With Culture Shock – we’re largely a volunteer run organization, we’re doing it for the love of dance and the mission of the organization. Everyone is dedicating their time because they love what they do. All the money we raise goes into our dance education programs and our community outreach work. We hope to create learning opportunities for our dancers; allowing them to advance and grow within the organization over the long-term.

AD: Thanks for the context, it’s always so interesting to me about how different companies work. Can you talk about the beauty of family?

Allison: Definitely, it reminds me of the story of how we got our name: Culture Shock. It happened when our founder looked around the room at her dancers and realized it was such a culture shock  to see a diverse mix of people sharing their passion for dance and vibing off one another. And we continue that tradition today. In our company, I see a great collective of people and it’s a love of dance and community that brings us together. These dancers are like family to me. They pick me up when I feel down, we make each other laugh. It’s crazy to think I likely wouldn’t have met them if not for dance and this organization, yet I can’t imagine life without them.

AD: How old is Culture Shock?

Allison: We were founded in 1994 and are turning 23 years old.

AD: Do your dancers come from specific places near rehearsals or throughout Southern California?

Allison: We have folks that come from all over. Our members come from as far away as Chatsworth and Irvine - we have dancers from all over Southern California who come to rehearse at locations in both Torrance and Alhambra.

AD: It seems like the larger public consciousness has changed around dance since the company was founded in 1994. The nature of pop culture’s relationship to hip hop has changed over time too. I’m wondering, have you seen a bump given shows like So You Think You Can Dance?

Sonia: We’ve definitely seen a spike in interest after shows like, So You Think You Can Dance and America’s Best Dance Crew. Thanks to the internet, dance in general has become more accessible globally. Dancers are able to release class videos or tutorials and students can appreciate at the comfort of their room. With growing interest and popularity of hip hop dance, so does the demand for urban arts in our community. We are excited to be part of the journey.

AD: Given how much more dance and hip hop dance is visible, are you finding that audiences have potential assumptions or misperceptions about this dance form?

Allison: I feel like we are in a new era where hip hop and street dance styles are being elevated and celebrated. Not long ago, people would question the validity of what we do and we’d face a lot of misperceptions and stereotypes. Especially within the schools we worked with – teachers would share that they didn’t “get it” when they heard our residency program was going to be at their site but by the end of our workshops with them, they loved it. But now, we are seeing a greater appreciation for our genre and it’s wonderful that Hip Hop is being included as a world culture within this year’s Aratani World Series.

AD: Sonia, thoughts from a dancer’s perspective on the changing nature of perceptions and mis-perceptions of hip hop?

Sonia: I think with any type of artistry, people have their own interpretations.. which is sort of the beauty behind it. Although we’re all about embracing your uniqueness, we stress the importance of knowing your roots and being educated of the history. Being a student is one of the first steps to nurturing and perfecting your craft.

AD: How does new work get developed in your company? Can you tell us a little bit more about Four Brothers, the piece you’ll be sharing at Aratani Theatre on February 11, 2017?

Allison: This particular show was originally created by Anthony Lee, he was our prior artistic director and the story of the Four Brothers was his idea and concept. We are revising and updating it for the Aratani World Series and are excited to share it with audiences in February. But in general, new work for the company is developed collectively. It’s very much reflective of how the company functions, everything is a collaborative effort with ideas coming from the creative team and the company dancers as well.

AD: So as you continue to build the Culture Shock family, what’s next, conquer the world?

Sonia: At the end of the day, our motto helps me stay focused: We are a troupe of individuals, who through the power of music and dance, cultivate self-worth, dignity and respect for all people. Whether you are a dancer or someone who appreciate the art form, the motto unifies us.

Allison: Yes! Dance is a powerful medium, it gives people a voice. It allows us to connect with people through a common language of self-expression. My hope for the company is that it will continue to build passion for dance and outreach within our members, create job and learning opportunities for the dancers, and allow them to nurture the next generation of young artists.

Anything else you want to share?

Allison: I just hope that audience members will come to the show, view it with an open mind, and leave feeling empowered or inspired.

Sonia: I just want the audience to have fun! Sounds so simple, but with so much instability in the world, I hope we are able to bring together people from all ages and backgrounds and help them reconnect with their child-like wonder that evening.

Come join Culture Shock LA and Versa Style as we open the Aratani World Series 2017 on Saturday, February 11, 2017. With pre-show dancing on the JACCC Plaza at 6pm and a food truck, we hope that you will join us for an evening of inspiration, storytelling and dance!

Tickets available HERE

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