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New dance instructor brings passion to COS

Michael Taber, Reporter

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Overcoming obstacles is nothing new to COS dance director Imara Quiñonez. Quiñonez grew up in East Los Angeles and had to overcome the negativity of those around her who told her that she could not achieve her dreams. Some of those detractors were fellow dancers that claimed she was too old, and her flexibility would not be up to par. However, the people who discouraged her the most was her family.

“My biggest hurdle in my life, as a dancer, was the concern for my family. I came from a poor family where food and clothing was a necessity. Dancing was not an important issue to pursue,” Quiñonez said.

They insisted that she should get an education and so she received a B.A. Business Degree from Chapman University and went on to earn a M.F.A. at Texas Women’s University.

Quiñonez’s passion and dream of being a dancer started at a young age when she saw film star Gene Kelly dance on screen.

“When seeing Gene Kelly as a child dance across the screen, I just didn’t want to dance, I wanted to be Gene Kelly,” Quiñonez said.

Not giving up on her dream, Quiñonez began taking a tap class at the age of 15 and her teacher saw promise in her abilities. Quiñonez’s teacher encouraged her to pursue her dreams. Even though she could only afford one class, her mentor allowed her to sign up for more classes. Quiñonez eventually worked off the debt by teaching classes, so she could follow her passion for dancing.

She trained in many styles of dance that include jazz, hip hop, modern, Afro dance, and Spanish flamenco. Afro dance, which is also known as African dance, is her favorite style. This form expresses the life of the community of Sub-Saharan Africa. These dances are participatory, with spectators being part of the performance.

Quiñonez has a vast experience and passion for the performing arts. Nevertheless, the multi-faceted artist is not only a teacher and dancer, but an actress and choreographer for theater and television as well.

Her greatest achievements were receiving rave reviews in the musicals ‘West Side Story’ and ‘Once on this Island’ for the roles of Anita and Ti Moune respectively.

“Imara Quiñonez is fabulous as Anita” Melinda Calvert of Easy Reader News said about Quiñonez’s performance in ‘West Side Story.’

As a dancer, Quiñonez has performed in venues such as the American Dance Festival, which has a six week course held at Duke University. It consists of a collection of the top collaborators in dance from the last 83 years who come together to teach dance techniques and perform new works. Quiñonez also performed at the African Market Place, which is one of the worlds largest festivals of economic development and cultural exchanges since 1985.

As a choreographer, one of Quiñonez’s greatest achievements was choreographing for several television channels such as the Disney Channel, Extra, and USA. One of the shows she choreographed was the Disney Channel series ‘That’s So Raven.’

Quiñonez has won numerous awards for choreographing productions, such as the musical ‘Parade’, for which she received the award for Outstanding Choreography from StageSceneLA in 2008. She has received many acclaimed reviews from outlets such as Variety, Los Angeles Times, Press Telegram, and Backstage West. Quiñonez additionally received outstanding reviews on choreographing shows such as ‘The Lights in the Piazza’, ‘Amadeus’, and ‘Carrie: The Musical.’

However, two years ago Quiñonez started another role in her life: a mother. Quiñonez prioritized raising her child and stepped away from being a performer to focus on being a parent and dance professor. She has a sister who lives and works in the Tulare County area, so working at COS turned into a great opportunity to be closer with her family and do what she loves.

“I do miss performing, but teaching is just as fulfilling as performing,” Quiñonez said.

Before moving to the Central Valley, she taught at several community colleges in the Los Angeles area, such as Long Beach City College and Compton College. Now, she teaches modern ballet, hip hop, jazz and tap at COS. Her colleagues admire her for her fire, drive, passion and dedication that students could tap into as an inspiration.

“She has an incredible passion for dance as an art form,” theater professor Chris Mangels said. “She also had a truly inspiring story about how dance helped her own path in life. That truly resonated with me because I felt she could empathize with many of our students in our community who struggle to succeed, but believe that the arts could be part of the bigger puzzle.”

Quiñonez is currently working on a Michael Jackson piece and the Fall Dance Festival. She is working alongside other performing arts departments at COS in the upcoming musicals “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” and “Bullets Over Broadway” as a choreographer. Although, she said it would be a dream to put on a production of ‘Hair: The American Love Tribal-Rock’ here at COS.

Quiñonez hopes the dance department will grow to the point where dance becomes a major and be sought out as a profession in this area. Quiñonez would love to see the dance department succeed alongside the other performing arts and be more integrated with them.

“She seems to be dedicated to maintaining high expectations of her students and colleagues, and that is key to building a great program,” Mangels said.

She seeks the growth of the dance department at COS so that another instructor could be hired. By having another dance instructor, Quiñonez believes it would give students another chance to see dance from another point of view, and it would be beneficial for the growth of the students. Ultimately, Quiñonez would like to see a new dance studio dedicated just to dance. That is, when the growth of the performing arts dance department reaches a point to facilitate one. Quiñonez’s major goal here at COS is to educate the community and the student’s families, upon the art of dance.

“My biggest aspiration is to educate families to be more supportive and dedicated to the performing arts,” Quiñonez said.

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New dance instructor brings passion to COS