Deborah Brockus has been on a mission to increase accessibility to dance since she taught her first class.
In 1994, Brockus Project Dance got its nonprofit certification, and “it kind of blossomed from there,” said Brockus, who decided to create her own organization due to a lack of other showcasing opportunities for dancers in the LA region.
Since then, the organization has produced over 200 showcases for performers, as well as hosted numerous master classes and workshops.
About eight years ago, Brockus began to focus on bringing dance training into underserved public schools, where there is a huge need for access, she said.
Through teaching a wide range of dance styles with a focus on social-emotional learning, the training allows for students to have a safe and healthy way to express emotions, Brockus said.
“It’s physical fitness, it’s creative expression,” Brockus said. “It’s teamwork and working together.”
Thanks to funding from the Miller Foundation, Brockus Project Dance began its work in Long Beach schools in 2018. The nonprofit has since taught at schools in the Long Beach Unified School District including Barton Elementary, Roosevelt Elementary and McKinley Elementary.
The organization has served thousands of youth from throughout the Long Beach and Los Angeles school districts through its educational programs, taught by members of BrockusRED, Brockus’ professional company.
“We find such a wonderful haven in dance, that we’re happy to share that with the kids,” Brockus said.
A student that may be quiet in class or disruptive in class blossoms with physical movement, said Brockus, explaining that dance has numerous mental health benefits.
“You’re focused on learning something and all of the problems of the world go away, because you’re working on figuring out and solving the physical problem of how to do the step,” Brockus said. ”Then, you get to share the joy of doing it, and dancing with your neighbors and class and friends. It is such a healing, powerful thing, that money shouldn’t be the barrier.”
Dance classes are typically expensive, and most dance schools are focused on the business model in order to keep its doors open, Brockus said.
“So the student is a bit more of a commodity, whereas we offer free programs for the students both in their schools and also at our studio,” said Brockus, who noted that her teachers are paid a living wage. “I do a lot of grant writing. I’m very glad I had the English degree.”
The nonprofit also offers a free summer camp, which is paid for in part by a California Arts Council grant, plus support from the City of LA Department of Culture.
It is vital that art be equitable, and that everyone has access, Brockus said.
“I have the tools that I can provide that, and I think it’s my responsibility— and a joy,” Brockus said. “Most of the kids we’ve had have never had dance.”
Like with Brockus Project Dance, Brockus’ professional company, BrockusRED focuses on providing access to dance “anywhere and everywhere,” meeting people where they need, through a wide range of dance styles, Brockus said.
The Los Angeles area is a unique landscape for dance; although the dance economy has expanded over the years, Los Angeles receives little funding toward art compared to other major U.S. cities and Europe, and most theaters are either too small or too big and always expensive to utilize, Brockus said.
However, dance in Southern California has its own identity and a very different sense of movement, Brockus said.
“We tend to be happier in our choreography. … Even if we have a dark theme, it doesn’t stay dark,” Brockus said. “We’re like freeway drivers. We just eat space and look at the huge mountains and the vast deserts, and that’s reflected in our work.”
LA is also home to a high percentage of female choreographers compared to the rest of the country, Brockus said.
“We don’t have the funding, so the boys don’t come,” Brockus said. “We’re definitely female-dominated in our choreography.”
Through Brockus Project Dance, Brockus hopes to develop a pipeline for the next generation of artists.
“We’ve encountered some amazing, wonderful kids, very talented and very driven,” Brockus said. “I want to continue to thrive, I want to make amazing work and reach as many students and audience members as I can.
Brockus said she hopes to “be a California superbloom.”