On Feb. 3 dancers at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy welcomed world renowned dancer and choreographer Sean Cheesman to the campus. Cheesman, who is currently a fixture on the hit TV show “So You Think You Can Dance” and has worked with such pop icons as Michael Jackson, Prince and Britney Spears, is choreographing an Afro-Jazz gospel number for FSHA’s annual dance concert in April. This collaboration is the result of a longtime friendship between FSHA’s dance teacher Cindy Montoya and Cheesman; they met more than 20 years ago as background dancers for Paula Abdul.
“Sean has one of the most innovative minds for telling a story through unique rhythmic movement,” Montoya said. “When I was thinking of how to incorporate meaningful movement into this year’s dance concert, I knew that Afro-Jazz, with its earthy roots, complex rhythms and athleticism, would help convey the emotion of certain American history themes.”
Cheesman signed on immediately: “It’s always so great to see young, fresh talent. It’s wonderful to feel that energy that they bring.”
On Monday, Cheesman taught a group of 20 dancers (all members of the junior and senior dance troupes) a piece of an Afro-Jazz routine. After rehearsing it with them for an hour, groups of four were called out to the floor to perform the routine they just learned. Of those girls, Cheesman picked his top 10 dancers and gave them individual critiques.
Senior Julia Houser was one dancer who impressed Cheesman.
“When he first came in and started teaching us the steps, I was a bit nervous,” she said. “But once I got the choreography down, it was really fun.”
Many other guests crowded into FSHA’s exercise room to watch the auditions. Leslie Kawai, an alumna from the Class of 1980, a former FSHA parent, a member of FSHA’s board of directors and a dancer, was one onlooker.
“Sean Cheesman is giving our girls an incredible life experience,” she said. “Being able to learn from a successful working choreographer provides an insight into the life of a professional artist and gives a preview of what to expect out in the dance world.”
Cheesman will return to FSHA in March to work with the dancers in preparation for the dance concert.