Students strut their stuff, build confidence at Scripps heels dance classes

Two girls demonstrate choreography to a dance class.
Kara Dunne-Dombrink SC ’20 and Kayla Krilove PZ ’22 teach choreography to the Reverb Dance Crew, the longest running dance group of the Claremont Colleges. (Alyssa Leong • The Student Life)

Walking in high heels and learning choreographed dance routines are two separately challenging tasks. Now imagine combining them by dancing full, fast-paced routines in high heels.

On Tuesdays at 8 p.m. in the Sallie Tiernan Field House at Scripps College, students in heels dance classes perform this exact difficult task, with high energy and enthusiasm.

Not quite hip hop and not quite jazz, heels dancing is more of a mindset than a style of dance, according to Kara Dunne-Dombrink SC ’20, captain of the Reverb Dance Crew, a heels and hip hop collective on campus. 

“The main thing is about confidence and body positivity and using dancing in heels — of any length … stilettos [or] block heels — to reinforce that confidence,” she said.

Most commonly associated with the power anthems and iconic performances of Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez, for example, heels dancing is often set to hip hop or R&B music. Participation in the Scripps classes require no heels (or leotards) to participate, though, and students shouldn’t feel discouraged if their dance skills are not at Queen Bey’s level — the classes are open to all 5C students, no experience necessary.

In the spring of 2018, Claire Joseph SC ’21 hosted the first heels dance class at Scripps after attending classes in Los Angeles for a few months. The first class was a small group, but nevertheless, the spirit of heels dancing immediately created a positive environment. 

“It was such a positive, comfortable space with people who had danced before and people who didn’t, and people who wore heels and people who didn’t,” she described. “It was really anything and everyone. It was great.”

After the first class, Dunne-Dombrink approached Joseph and proposed a collaboration between the Reverb Dance Crew and Joseph to keep hosting heels classes. The pair coordinated a second class, and they have been collaborating ever since. The classes have taken off since 2018, drawing consistent participation from students at the 5Cs.

Dunne-Dombrink emphasized the classes’ inclusivity to all students, regardless of gender or dance experience.

Heels dance classes are unique from perhaps other dance groups in their emphasis on body positivity and support, Joseph said. These are more than just dance classes; rather, they are a space for students to explore and empower themselves.

“There’s something really amazing about owning my own sexuality and my own power,” Joseph said. “In college, for me, a lot of [my evolution] has been becoming more comfortable with myself and working on … self-love practices. That component [of heels classes]  — feeling really comfortable in my body and feeling really sexual — has been really great.”

Students are not only able to empower themselves through dance at heels classes, but they can also build skills as choreographers and leaders. Hannah Schneider SC ’23 started participating in heels classes this year, and she has already choreographed and led five classes, along with helping with class administration and community building. 

Schneider emphasized the creative liberty allowed by heels dancing, noting how each choreographer brings their own style to their dances. 

“Every time someone choreographs, they have their own style, flavor or appeal. I feel like it is different than other genres of dance because heels [dancing] just describes the shoes that you’re wearing,” she said.  

While students lead and choreograph most classes, the group has also been able to bring in industry choreographers to teach, including choreographer and performer Jeffrey Liang. Opportunities for students to learn from professional choreographers are exciting, and Schneider emphasized the group’s insistence on inclusivity, even when hosting events with such dancers. 

“One of my friends came to class [with a professional], and she had never been in a dance class. She just likes wearing heels around campus,” Schneider said. “I asked, ‘What are you doing tonight? Come to the class.’ She jumped into the deep end and killed it.”

This sort of openness, inclusivity and positivity defines the heels dance class community, while the dancing itself allows students to empower themselves and foster confidence. Every week, students of all abilities come together and cheer for one another, enjoying the benefits of movement, support and strength.

“It’s just a place to play and feel great, and everyone looks amazing,” Joseph said. “People always come to the classes and say, ‘I don’t dance,’ and then by the end of the class, everyone’s just standing up [and] clapping for each other.”

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