Rio Hondo Students Flock to Revamped Dance Program
A vivid blend of artistic expression and teamwork thrives at EMCSD’s Rio Hondo School through their innovative Dance and Flag program. From its inception as a dance initiative, this program has bloomed into a mesmerizing tapestry of movement, rhythm, and collaboration.
Taryn Spink, the passionate mind behind the evolution of the Rio Hondo Dance and Flag program, reminisces about her initial encounter with Color Guard during her teaching days at Azusa High School. "I fell in love with the art form instantly," she recalls. "It was inspiring, visually impactful, physically challenging, and the choreography told a story in a creative way."
During the 2018 - 2019 school year, Ms. Spink established Rio Hondo’s dance program aiming to provide an additional avenue for Visual and Performing Arts. However, the pivotal moment arrived with the arrival of Mr. Jesse Perales, a Color Guard expert, who brought a donation of flags into the class. "The students were so excited and intrigued," Spink says, recounting the humble beginnings of the program's journey from a flag class of 37 students and an after-school color guard club of 43.
The program's structure revolves around nurturing students with zero prior experience, laying foundations in music understanding, dance techniques, and color guard skills. "Starting from the ground up every year," explains Spink, "we focus on music fundamentals, warming up, stretching, learning new moves, practicing choreography, and honing color guard techniques." The ground-up approach was echoed by Mr. Perales, “Adding flags to dance adds a challenging art form to performances that showcases the students' raw talent. There is really no class in how to teach or learn flags, everyone starts from the same level of having no experience.” The program instills confidence and pride in students through impressive moves and gradual skill development.
Most students joined the program simply because they were impressed by their classmates or saw it as an opportunity for a unique elective. “Ever since 6th grade whenever there were assemblies, I really liked how the flags looked and just the dancing in general was excellent,” shared Jacklyn Hernandez. Fellow dancer Michelle Ruelas said, “At first, it was my ticket out of P.E., but now I enjoy learning different dances, along with stepping out of my comfort zone and performing.”
At the heart of the Dance and Flag program lies a strong sense of community. Spink, Perales, and the students foster an environment where every individual is valued and encouraged. "We're a team, a family," emphasized Ms. Spink. Mr. Perales added, “Our biggest success has been the growth in numbers and seeing the excitement our students have when learning new routines and performances.” At Rio Hondo, students support each other, cheering loudly even in the face of mistakes, creating a safe space where encouragement thrives. Ms. Spink and Mr. Perales also collaborate with Arroyo High's flags program since many Rio Hondo students transition there for high school.
Riley Bob, a participant in the program, captures its essence by stating, "What I believe makes the dance program appealing is the many memories you can make while doing it. Why I think it has become one of the most popular electives is because of how much fun it is." Hailee Long, another student, shares her perspective, emphasizing the personal growth the program facilitates: "Participating in this program can help me gain more confidence in my body and skill so that I don't feel down or overwhelmed."
The Rio Hondo Dance and Flag program, from its humble inception to its current vibrant existence, stands as a testament to the power of passion, dedication, and community. Through rhythm, movement, and a shared vision, it paints a colorful portrait of unity, pride, and artistic excellence within the El Monte City School District.