Editors note: Danica Sena is the recipient of the 2014 Dancers Choice Award and she will be acknowledged at a free public event on Friday, April 25 at 12noon during the kick off for Bay Area Dance Week. The annual Dancers Choice Award celebrates individuals and organizations that are creatively impacting dance. Danica was selected from a stellar group of nominees—ranging from schools and performance spaces, to dance masters, to emerging and established artists and administrators, of which she was one of 103 nominations that the dance community submitted.
When people receive popular and professional accolades for not only what they teach but for the unique and effective way in which they share with others, there are many factors involved, some tangible and others intangible.
I often hear from my students, “Wow, how did you come up with this choreography?” or “I cannot believe that you are able to do footwork, castañuelas and sing at the same time!” and each time it stops me in my tracks because it is something I never contemplate. I actually do not possess a concrete answer as to how or why I do what I do. It is simply who I am and I do not know any other way to be.
First of all, dance and music (in particular) are my greatest passion and teaching is one very large extension of this. I consider this passion a gift and it never feels like “work.” I can feel emotionally exhausted from life’s stresses and as soon as I start to move my body I am instantaneously transported to another space. For me, there is nothing more in that moment than Flamenco dance—the storytelling, strength, drama, rhythmic complexity and musical expression. When I enter the studio and begin the class this love joins forces with knowledge, focus and discipline and I become instantaneously energized. My students receive the energy and they too, in turn, become uplifted.
This ties into the next big factor in making an impact: deep knowledge of one’s craft (whether it be Flamenco or mathematics) and the self-confident ability to think on your feet and articulate in such a way as to creatively react at a moment’s notice. Group classes hold many personalities and you have to be prepared to address and juggle them. I have a photographic memory, which helps greatly when it comes to absorbing and retaining information such as watching a combination once and being able to not only replicate it but also teach it to others. I was taught by my immigrant parents to seek out Masters rather than mere instructors and I have always done so, in fact, I still do. When I was around 12 years old I read a book about archery in which the Sensei said a true Master’s goal is to guide in such a way that his students ultimately surpass him. I thought it was one of the most beautiful and true things I had ever read because it does not involve the ego. It is about sharing 100%, accepting your own limits and ultimately fomenting freedom and ownership in others via the discipline, such as when one of my adult students with no previous dance or music experience is able to finally pulse a complex Flamenco rhythm without thinking or internally “counting.”
Before living in Spain, from 1991-2000, I already possessed a deep understanding of the Mediterranean culture and temperament since my parents are Serbian.
Song, dance and raw emotion are part of daily life. Besides upholding tradition in the household I spent many childhood summers on the Adriatic Coast with my relatives. Because I was bilingual from birth, learning Spanish and other languages was easy for me and I was fluent before I moved to Spain. Aside from Flamenco, classical Spanish and regional dance studies, living in Spain for a decade exposed me to all aspects of Spanish culture from art, history, literature, theatre, family and friends. Although it was a different language, the environment, food and ways people communicated and celebrated were familiar to me—it never felt “foreign.” Having this intrinsic cultural understanding coupled with limitless vocabulary and imagery make switching from Spanish to English and
Lastly, I am dedicated to my students. I try to show them that nothing worth achieving is easy and that there is no “fast fix” when it comes to learning Flamenco. I push them to the limits of their physical abilities and challenge them rhythmically and musically for that is the only way they can truly grow, but I do so always in a supportive manner, never condescending or disrespectful.
The ultimate reward is the joy I see on their faces and in their bodies when they have mastered something, no matter how great or small, or for when they are able to take this mastery to the stage and move audiences with their performances. I am a proud witness and this is my success.
This article appeared in the April 2014 issue of In Dance.