ALAMEDA -- Is it something in the water? Or maybe it's something in the air -- clean and crisp as it comes off the Bay. No one seems to know for sure, but the College of Alameda certainly seems to attract its share of talented, creative people, especially in its dance program.
Known for its student-centered learning and award-winning vocation programs, the community college has also counted a number of professional dancers among its faculty who, in turn, have inspired students to go on to careers in dance.
"We did some wonderful concerts with the music department when I taught at the College of Alameda in the '70s and early '80s," said Pamm Drake, a professional dancer who tapped her way across the country in musicals including the national tour of "A Chorus Line." Drake, who owns Alameda's Dance 10 studio, said, "I worked with a lot of talented people at the college, and we brought in great guest artists like jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and American soul and jazz legend George Duke."
Many of Drake's students, including Roger Dillahunty, went on to dance professionally or teach. The well-known dance professional has danced and taught all over the world. Making his home in Alameda, Dillahunty continues to be a sought-after teacher throughout the Bay Area.
"It was dancing that allowed me to do things I never thought I could do, like speaking in public," he recalled. "It gave me confidence and self-awareness. I found my voice."
Currently, the College of Alameda counts two rising young stars among its graduates -- Robyn and Julian De Guzman. Robyn, who earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in dance at UC Irvine, is part of the national tour of "Elf," having previously toured with the national company of "Beauty and the Beast." Meanwhile, her younger brother Julian, who graduated from Irvine with a bachelor of fine arts degree in dance and a bachelor of arts degree in sociology, is appearing on Broadway in the hit musical "Newsies" at the Nederlander Theatre in New York City.
The siblings grew up in Alameda, and under the tutelage of their father, Joe De Guzman, Ph.D., began dancing and gymnastics at a young age.
"I believe in a well-rounded education," the elder De Guzman said. "I wanted my children to learn science and math but also to know about the performing arts."
A Renaissance man himself, De Guzman landed his first professional dancing job at Disneyland while working on a degree in chemistry at UCLA. He went on to dance in the movie "The Music Man" and continued to combine careers in the performing arts and science. This culminated in an 18-year stint teaching dance at the College of Alameda where his students included Robyn and Julian.
"I really loved teaching there -- so many talented students and lots of support," said De Guzman, who in his 70s still takes dance classes.
Danny Nguyen now helms the College of Alameda's dance program.
"The college had an awesome dance program that died out," Nguyen said. "I was happy to help bring it back."
Born in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam, Nguyen escaped in 1982 on a small boat with 47 other people. One of the things he discovered about his new home was that dance was an acceptable vocation in America, unlike Vietnam. He went on to receive a bachelor of fine arts degree in dance, performance and choreography from the California Institute of the Arts and a master's of fine arts degree from Mills College. He has also been recognized as one of the top, creative choreographers in the Bay Area.
But for Nguyen, making dance accessible to as many people as possible is his main concern.
"I love to teach, and I want to make everybody dance. It's good for life," he said. The college's renovated dance studio helps Nguyen meet that goal. "I'm inspired and proud to work in this space. We have newly remodeled space with a good floor for dance, colorful drapes and artwork on the walls. Our students are very diverse, full of life and passion for dance. I'm very proud to give them the opportunity to learn in this lovely setting."