Sequoia Rodriquez, Dance Teacher
I was raised in Oakland, CA, but attended school in Berkeley. I have one sister, two brothers, and a ton of cousins as my mom is one of seven kids. My large family helped me discover my passion for dance. It wasn’t because they danced with me, quite the opposite. I would always try to create dance routines with my cousins but they didn’t want to participate. They had other interests like sports and just hanging out being kids.I realized my love for dance was different but also special. My aunt was a play writer and I was constantly trying out for plays just to be able to perform and be seen. After a while the plays slowed up a bit and I began to look elsewhere for ways to expand my dancing and performing opportunities.
I danced anywhere I could. I did praise dancing at church. I danced in all of my elementary school’s talent shows, usually being the one to choreograph the dance routines – Go John Muir! I joined cheer dance at Willard Middle School and later dove into ballet, modern dance and hip-hop classes. I wanted to learn all different kinds of dance. I didn't like to stick to just one dance style. I was interested in them all.
It wasn’t until Berkeley High School that I discovered African dance, Afro-Haitian to be exact. Ms. Washington, aka Momma, was a huge inspiration to me. She was an African woman who was open to teaching all students: boys, girls, all ages, all ethnic backgrounds. It didn’t matter if you were big or small, black, white or blue. If you wanted to dance, she would teach you. She never judged. I loved that it wasn’t a black student only class and that I could be dancing to the beat with my white girlfriends and my black girlfriends by my side. All Ms. Washington demanded from us was to consistently dance and follow the rhythm and beat. Her approach to teaching dance inspired me more than I knew. I later found myself working at different schools teaching all sorts of different dance styles to the students and they loved it just as much as I did when I was younger.
I love working with kids. I was first hired with Berkeley Unified school district in the afterschool program. What to teach? I thought,”why not Afro-Haitian dance?” With African dances, you need live music, so I purchased an African drum, a djembe, and I taught myself how to drum. I would record my drumming with my phone and I would play the recorded music at home for myself as I taught myself the movement which went with the drum beat. Eventually I was able to teach my students how to drum and dance and we were able to learn to dance with live music. Everyday was a performance. It was fun and joyful. I started to live by my own life's mantra, “dance to the beat of your own drum”. To me this mantra means so much. It is saying that you should be your own person, you are talented and you can accomplish anything in life that you put your mind to. After becoming a self taught drummer, I knew that I would be able to teach so many more kids African dance. This was a big step for me.
Today, after 16 years working in BUSD, I am happy that I am at Cragmont teaching African dance. My students are encouraged to incorporate all types of movement, not just dance, but also gymnastic moves, backbends, yoga stances, any movement their body wants to make. My structure in dance is to simply – follow the rhythm and beat.
I started my own dance and drum company five years ago. I teach a dance and drum summer camp every year and many of my Berkeley school students attend. We spend hours exploring different dance styles and drum beats. Starting my own dance and drum company allows me to teach kids and fills my life with joy year round. When I am not teaching dance, I enjoy traveling, doing yoga, dancing, being a mom to my two young daughters and son who will be off to college soon and spending time with my husband.
To me, Black History month is important as it is an opportunity to shed light on black heroes who have not been seen or heard. However, my hope is one day, black history month is not just celebrated once a month. I am waiting for the day black history is acknowledged and appreciated throughout the year. Until that day comes, you can find me teaching African dances and drumming all year long!
Sequoia Rodriquez, Dance Teacher