Summer Intensives: Where dancers can shadow a Limón Doppelgänger and other inspiring artists

Summer is here, and millions will hit the beach and go camping. The more sedate crowd will lounge and read, barbecue and drink beer. You can almost smell the ocean air and brats on the grill. But there is a select group that prefers the smell of sweaty workout clothes and the taste of sports drinks.

Francisco Ruvalcaba Tovar

Francisco Ruvalcaba of Limón Dance Company is a guest teacher at San Diego Dance Theater this summer. Photo: Roel Seeber

For several weeks every summer, athletic and dedicated dancers pay big bucks to spend long days indoors, jumping and grooving on sprung wooden floors.  For serious dancers, summer fun is found within Summer Intensives, dance boot camps designed for children, teens, and exceptional men and women who want to learn from the best and study in a professional environment.

A huge draw is rubbing shoulders with famous dance artists, such as Francisco Ruvalcaba from Limón Dance Company.

“I’m teaching two workshops at San Diego Dance Theater,” he said, “Limón Technique and Repertory.  I don’t know which repertory works yet.  First I need to see the dancers, their abilities, and bodies.”

As in life, what happens in the workshop will depend on how many men show up. Ruvalcaba may teach excerpts from Limón’s “Choreographic Offerings,” “Rhythmic Studies” or “Mazurkas.”

“If there’s a whole class of women, we’ll learn “Mazurkas” set to Chopin, because it has a women’s quartet,” he said, “ but I hope we have men, we need strong men, because then we can do lots of partnering.  I teach how to handle weight. Limón’s technique is old, based on shifts of weight, and fall and recovery that he learned after years with Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman.  He was very good at creating group pieces, with complicated phrases and patterns.”

José Limón (1908-1972) was born in Mexico and moved to New York City in 1928 after a year at UCLA as an art major. He established his own company in 1946, and Humphrey later became his artistic director. His powerful dancing shifted perceptions of the male dancer.

Ruvalcaba joined the company in 1996; in many ways he has followed Limón’s footsteps.

“I am from Tijuana and my family lives there,” Ruvalcaba said, “and I come to San Diego to teach whenever I can. “I started dancing late – I was 18. I took ballet classes at the Casa de la Cultura because a cute girl was in the class, and I wanted to see her in tights!”

Ruvalcaba says his life changed when he transferred to Southwestern College and met historian Shirley Wynne, a Baroque dance expert who became his mentor.

“I was Pablo Francisco Ruvalcaba Tovar then, and chubby, but I was a guy, so I got in,” he said, “and Shirley took me to Lisbon, Portugal to dance. I still thought I’d be a teacher or an oceanographer, but I ended up at Julliard in New York, thanks to her. In my generation a dancer could go to a conservatory and join a company. It’s tricky now. I’ve been fortunate to work with luminaries and dance the solo work that José did.”

Many of Limón’s works are considered masterpieces, such as “Missa Brevis” from 1958, his reaction to seeing Poland after World War II. To preserve its legacy, the company presents revivals of the mass with a full orchestra and choir, most recently in New York, Hungary, and Colombia. San Diego is on the list for next year.

“We like to supplement the cast with local dancers, and I will be looking for advanced dancers this summer who have kinetic awareness,” Ruvalcaba said. “After taking classes with me, I hope they audition for ‘Missa.’ I need secure dancers with limbs connected to their core.”

In his summer intensive, Ruvalcaba says students should expect a warm up that comes from the idea of falling down.

“In Limón, the line is balletic, but from a different principal,” he said. “You oppose constant gravity; stretch an arm in one direction, and a leg in the other. It’s classical Humphrey-Weidman opposition. The struggle makes us human.  I am Mexican and male, but I live in America and share my life with a woman. Those oppositions create people, and powerful dance.”

: If you didn’t audition or apply anywhere, drop in on a class. If you’ve always wanted to moon walk, you are in luck. Dev Gregory teaches the stylings of Michael Jackson from the songs “Beat it,” “Thriller,” and “Drill,” Thursdays, May 23-July 18. Register at:

If you’ve always wanted to moon walk, you are in luck. Dev Gregory teaches the stylings of Michael Jackson from the songs “Beat it,” “Thriller,” and “Drill,” Thursdays, May 23-July 18. Register at:

Things to know about Summer Intensives: Some companies require intense auditions, videos, and photos, especially the ballet troupes. Combinations of classes – contemporary, ballet, jazz, aerial, hip hop, African, choreography, and Pilates – are structured to advance technical skills and prepare for performance in a short amount of time.

Workshops culminate in professionally staged performances at various theatres. They serve as auditions for companies and choreographers – dancers can mingle with the best, and be seen by the best.

While some require a formal audition and registration, many allow drop-ins. Workshops cost about $500 per week and run from two to three weeks. Master classes cost about $20.  There are scholarships.

Summer Intensives are a big deal, bigger than Disneyland for out-of-state families who plan their vacations around them. International students and those from other states are always looking for host families. (I rented out my house one summer to three women from Utah who needed a place to crash, shower, and do laundry). The workshops are a lot of fun, but will challenge even the most advanced dancers. They can be life changing.  A workshop with a magical teacher might confirm a dancer’s decision to make dance a profession.

Viviana Alcazar Credit Liza Voll

Viviana Alcazar of the PGK Dance Project. Students from Belize, Malaysia, Florida, and Texas are expected this summer.. Photo: Liza Voll

San Diego Summer Intensives 2013:

Beginning Summer Workshop for ages 5-10 years old at California Ballet runs June 17-Aug. 16.

Beginning Summer Workshop for ages 5-10 years old at California Ballet runs June 17-Aug. 16. Photo:  Brad Matthews/California Ballet School


California Ballet Company: Advanced & Intermediate, based on Russian and Cecchetti techniques. July 8-26. Final performance at Coronado School of the Performing Arts.

City Ballet of San Diego: Taught by Maria Kowroski; principal dancer with New York City Ballet; Paloma Herrera; principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre; and Zippora Karz, former soloist with New York City Ballet. July 29-August 16. Showcase performance at the Spreckels Theatre.

Eveoke Dance Theater: Full week of training in modern, contemporary jazz, ballet, hip-hop, and African dance, taught by local dance professionals. August 5-9. Contact Ericka Aisha Moore at 619.238.1153 or [email protected] 

Malashock Dance: Three-week workshop for intermediate, advanced, and professional dancers, curriculum focusing on technique and provocative choreography, led by world-class faculty, July 8-26. Final concert at La Jolla Country Day School.

PGK Dance Project: Focus on ballet, contemporary technique, “PGK” repertory, and choreography.  June 17-28. Final performances at Coronado School of the Arts.

San Diego Ballet: Includes ballet, jazz, character, theatre dance, and music appreciation. July 8-August 16.  Three-week session with Maxim Tchernychev, ballet master, invitation only, July 29-Aug. 16. Sessions conclude with performance and reception.

San Diego Dance Theater: Jean Isaacs, company dancers, and Francisco Ruvalcaba, of Limón Dance Company.  Instructors may select dancers for the annual “Trolley Dances” from these workshops. July 29-August 10. Final performances and reception at White Box Theatre.


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