For the past 28 years, Kathy Mata Ballet (KMB) has been providing free dance performances to San Francisco seniors and others through partnerships with local community organizations. Dancers’ Group asked teacher and choreographer, Kathy Mata, to share the story of her work and organization.
What is your background?
I am a native San Franciscan. At 8 years of age, I dreamed of becoming a teacher of dance and director of dance productions; my parents were very supportive. Most of my life has been dedicated to teaching and choreographing dance. On my journey toward this dream, I was exposed to major ballet companies that visited San Francisco, and was given the opportunity to have hands-on experience with the greatest stars. As I share with my dancers, one cannot dance a role well without proper coaching from an experienced mentor. I spent many years training in San Francisco with Jean Hart, a teacher from the Royal Academy of Dance, London, and with the Christensens at the San Francisco Ballet School and Company.
How did Kathy Mata Ballet start?
In 1985, many years into my teaching career, I began developing an adult ballet company with the purpose of providing non-professional dancers a venue in which to showcase their skills in performances at community organizations. Our first performance took place in 1987 for the senior home at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center. Its great success inspired me to officially launch Kathy Mata Ballet in 1988.
What’s unique about KMB?
Ours is one of the few dance companies in this country to provide talented adult dancers, most from non-dance professions, with the opportunity to train and perform. The company dancers, all of whom dance and rehearse at least four times a week on top of their professional working day, come from a variety of careers, including accounting, engineering, law, and scientific research. Our main purpose is to perform for seniors and others who may not have access to live dance performances.
Who is a part of KMB?
At the moment, there are seventeen dancers in the company, not counting frequent guest performers.
How do they become part of the group?
Usually dancers will start by consistently taking classes with me, and then demonstrating a commitment to the mission of Kathy Mata Ballet, through volunteering and/or assisting us with fundraising.
Where does the company perform?
We perform three times a year at The Sequoias, a lovely retirement center in San Francisco, and every spring and fall at the Alonzo King LINES Dance Center, where I regularly teach. Then, in late summer or early autumn, we hold an annual celebration in a larger venue. For the last two years, it was at City College of San Francisco. This year, we are pleased to announce that it will take place at Mercy High School, in San Francisco, on Saturday, August 27. At Christmas we have our annual Holiday show for the Castro Senior Center for the seniors who have very little celebrations other than our group. It’s a joy to see their faces light up with smiles enjoying our performances.
You mentioned that you have a teaching career. What is your teaching philosophy, and how does it connect to KMB?
I teach every day, even on holidays, and strive to offer adult dancers from non-dance backgrounds an opportunity to learn ballet, and for the company to execute innovative dance performances of quality, especially for under-served audiences.
What has been the most rewarding part of your work?
As company artistic director and primary choreographer, I enjoy creating contemporary as well as classical-style works, and pride myself on producing programs which feature a variety of dance styles and music, including ballet, modern dance, jazz, hip hop, salsa, lyrical, musical theater, etc. While I enjoyed traveling throughout the United States, giving master classes and choreographing pieces for small ballet companies, the most important sources of joy and purpose in my life are my students and performers.
What inspires you?
Most of all, my students inspire me.
Kathy Mata was a member of the California Imperial Ballet, Pacific Ballet, and an apprentice for San Francisco Ballet. Mata has taught adult dancers since 1985. From 1995, she has been teaching at the Alonzo King LINES Dance Center specializing in adult ballet. Kathy Mata Ballet was created in 1988, and has since been showcasing original work synthesizing contemporary and classical dance forms, often incorporating multi-cultural dances and music including Gospel, Afro-Cuban, Japanese, Brazilian, Chinese and Modern Dance combined with classical ballet.