A slave to the beat

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Dance provides an intricate and elegant pathway across the stage. For dance major Chris de Piazza it has also provided a path for his life.

De Piazza, 20, started dancing as a freshman at Taft High School. Initially, he embraced dance as a way to get out of P.E. after a suggestion from his friends.

“I had never danced before. I ended up liking it a lot,” de Piazza said. “I thought I was good at it my first semester, then my teacher was like, ‘What are you doing? You shouldn’t be in this class.’ A year later I rejoined the class. I had rehearsed a lot over the summer and took classes. When she told me I was good, I auditioned for the dance team and the rest is history. I just kept dancing after that, seven days a week during high school.”

Dance provided more than just a means to get out of class for de Piazza.

After growing up in San Diego with his mother, de Piazza was forced to move up to the Los Angeles area with his father and stepmother the summer prior to his freshman year of high school.

According to de Piazza he started down a bad path as a way of rebelling. He started ditching school and doing other things he admits that he shouldn’t have been doing as a freshman.

“This is before I really started falling in love with dance and making it my passion,” de Piazza said. “By my junior year, I started really straightening out my act. I was so involved with the dance program and I was doing musicals outside of school. I was in drama, vocal ensemble and dance classes. So I was consistently involving myself in things that made me happy so I didn’t have to worry about rebelling.”

“Dance has definitely helped me find myself,” de Piazza said. “It helped me accept my sexuality. It helps my self-confidence. When someone compliments you and says you’re really good at that and you don’t believe you’re good at anything else. When you keep hearing that it helps you, it helps you become a happier person.”

Through high school de Piazza mostly focused on hip-hop dance, and now at Pierce he mainly focuses on contemporary.

“I still want to be versatile,” de Piazza said. “Right now I’m focusing on contemporary, but I still practice every other style. Salsa, swing, hip-hop, jazz. I haven’t learned tap yet, but they’re going to put that in next semester so I’m going to be doing that too.”

Fellow dance major Sandy Luque has shared the stage with de Piazza many times.

“Chris has something special, something not every dancer has,” Luque said. “Dance is a very competitive world. We’re all competing all the time. Chris is one of those dancers where he may not have the perfect technique, but he’s the dancer you want to pay a ticket to go to watch. That’s what makes him special.”

De Piazza hopes to attend UC Santa Barbara after Pierce. He plans to get his master’s in dance so he can teach after retiring from the professional dance world. According to de Piazza, UCSB also has a professional dance company that tours while students are still in school.

“It’s a really good opportunity and usually people get booked in the industry right out of college because of the connections. It’s a very intense training program,” de Piazza said. “It’s audition-based only so it’s not a guaranteed in. You get lucky if you get in. It’s a very small program. That’s the goal, that’s the path I hope to take.”

Adjunct dance professor Denise Gibson has seen de Piazza’s development and considers him one of her favorite success stories at Pierce.

“He started off at Pierce College kind of disorganized, didn’t really know where to go, what to do,” Gibson said. “He’s improved in every category. Performance, technique, organization, time management. His technique is getting to the point where he’ll be able to have a really successful audition at a university dance program. Give him another two semesters and he’ll be ready to go. I’m very proud of him.”