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For talented kids, a chance to dance, rap and show their skills

on October 2, 2009

It seems like a tall order.

Wanted: fifteen volunteer hip-hop or modern dance performers willing to learn spoken word theater for a Spring show in Oakland and possible national tour. Song, rap, martial arts and aerial dance skills could also come in handy.

Oh, yes–and actors must be 12 or younger.

The group will be known as “Destiny Junior Company,” and the idea emerged out of Destiny Art Center, a non-profit that runs dance, theater and martial arts classes for Oakland youth.

Ariel Luckey, co-director of the proposed “Destiny Junior Company,” says he is not worried about finding enough children with the perseverance and talent to join the company. In fact, he is so confident about Monday’s audition that his biggest concern is how difficult it is going to be to choose.

“Knowing that the kids have been courageous and bold enough to put themselves out there and inevitably we’re going to have to turn some away is going to be really hard,” he says, as he stands beside the bright mural on the door of Destiny and looks out at the fall day and a group of children playing on the grass outside. “Getting the confidence to perform before a panel of professional artists takes courage.”

The auditions are open, and over the last few weeks Destiny Arts has been recruiting in elementary schools and youth programs. Luckey is expecting at least two children to try out for every spot. The audition will be held from 4:30 pm until 6:00 on Monday before a panel of six judges. The children will learn a hip-hop and modern dance routine, as well as practice some theater exercises, before the final decision is made sometime next week. Children are encouraged to show the panel a song, dance or spoken word piece that expresses themselves.

Door of Destiny“Even if they don’t get in, we will try and make the audition a good experience,” Luckey said. “There’s nothing to lose – if nothing else you’ll learn something new.”

As he wanders  the corridors of the building Destiny Art Center currently shares with a local charter school on 42nd Street, it is easy to see why Luckey is so confident.

The walls are decked out in brightly colored paintings made by the summer-camp participants, and the beats and rhythms reverberating in the corridors give a clue to further talents. Behind the closed doors a series of kung fu, hip-hop and theater classes are in full swing. Some of the classes become so boisterous and energetic that the doors are pushed open to allow a breeze through to cool the dancers and fighters.

A group of 16-year-old students sits on the wooden floor of one of the studios. They are introducing themselves to each other before the first class of the semester. Some murmur their answers amidst giggles, and the more confident ones yell out the answers of their more reticent colleagues so everyone can hear.

“Her name is Erin and she goes to Oakland Tech,” yells one 16-year-old sprawled out on the floor, his gangly legs hooked under him.

But silence and calm settle for a moment as teenage anxieties are put aside and Natasha Jacobs, the other director for “Destiny Junior Company,” guides the small circle in meditation. The mirrored wall reflects the peaceful group back into the room as they close their eyes.

The recent shooting of Desiree Davis, the Oakland Tech 17 year old killed in a drive-by on Labor Day, is a pertinent reminder that violent crime is a reality on the streets of Oakland and in the lives of many of these teenagers here at Destiny. But as Ethan Zatko, on site program manager at Destiny Art Center, says, “There is also a history of people caring and wanting to do something about it in Oakland.”

Destiny is a part of that movement. It began 21 years ago, and not only offers a place for young people to go after school and something positive to do, but also teaches positive approaches to dealing with stress. One of Destiny’s methods is what the teachers call “five fingers of violence” prevention, which is introduced to even the youngest participants. It offers an alternative way of coping with anger or tension, explains Zatko. As an an alumnus of Destiny, Zatko was struck that even years after he left Destiny as a student and returned as a staff member, he could still remember the five fingers of violence prevention he learned when he was five years old.

Cameron is six. His head is a tumble of dark curls, and he proudly sports a black t-shirt, emblazoned with a bright orange and yellow “Destiny” logo.

Cameron lives in Oakland and this afternoon came straight from school to attend his weekly Thursday 3:30 pm hip-hop class at Destiny Art Center. His small frame is agile as it bends and twists through the routines alongside his taller peers. They are sweating and glowing as they emerge for a quick break at the water fountain outside.

“There isn’t really anything I don’t like about Destiny,” Cameron says, scrunching his face as he tries to think of something.

Cameron is one of the students who will be auditioning for Destiny Junior Company on Monday. He grips his fingers along the edge of his t-shirt, stretching the logo as he imagines what the audition will be like.

“I’m excited and a little nervous,” he says, before making an off-hand comment about how much the flips in hip-hop appeal to him and then demonstrating a one-handed handstand.

Destiny Girl

Audition for “Destiny Junior Company”:

Monday October 5th

4:30 – 6 pm

BRING – Yourself, energy, dance clothes

OPTIONAL – You may bring a dance, song, spoken word piece or talent that you would like to show that expresses YOU.

Destiny Art Center 1000 42nd Street, (between Adeline and Market Streets).

For information call Sarah Crowell, 510 597 1619 ex. 102

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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