Punahou has one of Hawai‘i’s largest dance academies for grades K – 12. It offers not only a wide variety of dance styles, but also a range from introductory to the most challenging of levels. All classes are open to the public, as well as to Punahou students.
The program is serious and comprehensive, teaching students to love dance and providing sufficient foundation for further artistic pursuits. The discipline, perseverance and intelligence required to succeed in the performing arts serves the students well in other aspects of their lives, both in and out of the classroom. The Dance School cultivates and promotes these character traits, and fosters an abiding appreciation for dance and the performing arts.
The Dance School encourages (but does not require) all its students to study ballet, because the "classical technique" taught in ballet classes is the foundation of nearly all stage dance. Classical technique was developed in 17th century France, and although there are various ways of teaching classical dance, the terminology and the positions themselves are pretty much the same today. There are five basic positions of the arms and legs, and every ballet step is accomplished by relying on one or more of these basic positions. The objective is twofold: (1) to place the body in a certain position as to present the most pleasing line to the audience; and (2) to align the muscles and skeletal structure in a manner that will enable the dancer to execute the step most efficiently, gracefully and without injury.
In a typical ballet class the teacher will use exercises or "combinations" of steps showing the dancer how to use these basic positions while moving. The student begins with simple exercises of the legs, feet and arms while holding onto a horizontal support called a barre. These exercises are intended to align the body correctly and warm up the muscles and joints. The next portion of dance class is called centre, in which dancers practice some of the same steps executed at the barre, and then move across the floor, practicing glides, jumps and turns.
All students are placed in classes according to their ages, ability and prior experience. Beginning ballet classes teach basic vocabulary and classical positions. When students develop proper body placement (i.e., alignment of their torso, hips, legs and feet), they begin to execute more complex steps and combinations of steps. They also learn proper placement of their arms (port de bras) and heads, in coordination with their movement.
Because classical training is so precise and rigorous, the ballet dancer learns to be dedicated and disciplined in her approach to this art. We also expect our ballet students to be "intelligent" dancers, to think while they dance, understanding the principles of technique, rather than merely executing shapes and steps by rote imitation. Thus, ballet is as much an exercise in character, as it is for physical and artistic training and creativity.
As its name implies, jazz dance is performed to the syncopated rhythms of jazz music. It originated in America and has evolved into many sub-categories, each of which is heavily dependent upon and influenced by the music. Hence, jazz dance can range from the highly stylized choreography of Broadway musicals (e.g, Pajama Game, West Side Story) to the funky hip-hop movements associated with Street Dance. Notwithstanding the free-form movement of jazz, students are encouraged (but are not required) to study ballet as a foundation for jazz training.
Tap Dance is an original American art form, born in the mid 1800s. A blend of European dance and intricate African steps and rhythms, it requires the percussive musical ability of a drummer and the strength, balance, flexibility and overall body control of a ballet or jazz dancer. Two distinct schools of Tap are explored in this curriculum - Classic Tap, which incorporates ballet and jazz technique, and Rhythm Tap, which emphasizes footwork with less emphasis on upper body and arm movements.
Street Dance (often called "hip-hop") is a generic term applied to popular dance forms which have evolved from movement performed by trained and untrained dancers on the "street", in alleys and similar venues. It is derived from jazz dance and is highly personal to the individual choreographer and dancer. Here it is taught as a formalized performance or stage dance, with specific movements, steps and styles.
Musical Theatre is a form of stage performance (often called a "musical") which combines music, singing, dancing and dialogue to convey a story or the emotional content of the work. Musicals are performed all around the world, especially in centers on Broadway (New York City) and the West End (London), as well as in schools and community and regional stages. Some famous musicals include South Pacific, West Side Story, Oklahoma, Phantom of the Opera, and A Chorus Line.
The musical theater program at Punahou Dance School is designed to provide a foundation for students in the combined disciplines of dance, acting, and vocal performance. Using traditional and contemporary Broadway music and choreography, students with prior training will enhance their dance education by learning to develop character and storytelling elements in performance. Those new to the discipline will receive a broad and exciting introduction to American musical theater.
The After School program is based on a three-year cycle. During the first year of this cycle, classes focus on dance technique. The second year includes learning choreography designed to showcase each class level, ending in an informal "pau hana" (end of work) concert on stage with simple costumes. In the third year, students participate in a "triennial" recital, with an original story, elaborate costumes, and professionally designed sets and lighting.
Over a five-week period during the summer, the dance school offers many of the same dance courses as the regular school year. Classes are held earlier in the afternoon, and in the morning a survey course is offered for students in grades 2 – 8 called "Dance Awareness", which exposes them to ballet, jazz, musical theatre, tap and Polynesian dance.
All classes are held in the Josephine Flanders Dance Pavilion located on upper campus. Named after the Dance School's founder, this state-of-the-art facility was completed in 2008 and is one of the finest of its kind. There are three separate studios, two of which can be combined into one larger space. Each studio is equipped with the latest sound equipment and dance flooring.
The Dance School faculty is its greatest asset. They have received the finest training and have many years of experience in teaching and performing on local and national stages. They work closely with each other to improve their teaching skills, to promote excellence in the classroom and to foster a warm, collegial and caring atmosphere throughout the Dance School.
- Kristin Aune, Director, Dance School; Instructor (Ballet and Musical Theater)
- Ahnya Chang, Instructor (Jazz, Musical Theater, Tap)
- Carolyn Feher, Instructor (Ballet)
- Malia Gardner, Instructor (Street)
- Claudia Heu, Instructor (Tap)
- Lisa Kimsey, Instructor (Tap)
- Maile Lum, Instructor (Jazz)
- Brigitte Nakagawa, Instructor (Ballet)
- Jacie Oda, Instructor (Street)
- Dwayne Sakaguchi, Instructor (Street)
- Leslea White, Instructor (Street)
- Christine Yasunaga, Instructor (Jazz)
- Caryn Yee, Instructor (Tap)