Backstage with Tricia Gomez of Rhythm Works Integrative Dance

I’m always fascinated and super inspired when I meet other dance educators and artists who are doing AMAZING things - their spirits and backgrounds and all they’ve achieved just give me all the warm and fuzzies, and I know after reading this week’s interview with Tricia Gomez of Rhythm Works Integrative Dance and Owner of Dance In A Box, you’ll be feeling the love as well. Let’s get to it! Read on!

KC: What's your earliest memory of dance?
TG:I remember being dressed up for my first class. I had ballet shoes on. I was 2 years old! My dance teacher, Miss Debbie Root Moore, lived next door to me and I was so excited! I also remember taking my recital pictures in an adorable white and pink satin ballet outfit. It had an umbrella that went along with it. I thought I was so special!

KC: What's your background with dance? Was it love at first plie?
TG: I don't remember ever NOT dancing. It's been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. In fact, I recently did DNA testing and discovered that there are "dancer gene mutations" and I happen to have both of them!  So I guess you can say dance is literally in my DNA! I can remember my mom constantly asking me to stand still, or stop leaping over the different colored tiles in the grocery store. I think I saw the opportunity to dance in everything. Now I use it as therapy and train others to do so as well!

KC: How did you get into teaching? What's your favorite thing about it?
TG:I was the captain of my high school dance team, so I consider that my first dip into teaching. When I graduated from high school, our local teacher had decided to close up shop, so I jumped in and filled the void while I when to college. I was just so thrilled to be making money from dancing! The littles stole my heart. Their innocence, their honesty, and their awe really took dance, for me, to a different level. 

KC: Who are your dance heroes, and why?
TG: I was pretty sheltered growing up and my dance teachers never really taught us about the great dance pioneers. I pretty much relied on commercial media to get who's who of the dance world. I was in awe of Paula Abdul. I wanted to be just like her so badly as a kiddo. In fact, 2 years after graduating from high school, I closed my dance studio, dropped out of college (I was a Chemical Engineer major...haha), and fly out to Los Angeles to audition for the Laker Girls (because Paula was one). I actually made the team so I moved out to LA permanently and I've been dancing professionally ever since! I got to meet her one day when she came into our dressing room before one of the games. I wanted to cry! These days, I really admire dance teachers who really know how to TEACH, not just choreograph. I call them "Teaching Artists" because the process of teaching becomes the art. They observe each student individually and do whatever is necessary to get the student to understand what's needed of them. That takes true creativity and that's where the real relationships are found. That's what's most important!

KC: Tell us about the Rhythm Works program. What is it, and how did it begin?
TG: Rhythm Works Integrative Dance is a continuing education certification for teachers who would like to confidently and effectively work with students who have learning differences and other special needs. It applies dance and rhythm to evidence-based practices from the fields of occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and ABA therapy. Dance is magical and when we apply specific movement that correlates to foundations skills needed to achieve developmental goals, we see students reaching their goals faster! It takes dance to a whole new level. It's not just about expressing or understanding emotion, it literally rewires the brain! 

To make a long story short, after a near-death experience, I understood that there was something that I needed to do, my purpose wasn't complete. After I recovered, I set out on a journey to figure out what that purpose was. Through a not-so-coincidental chain of events, I found myself surrounded by a board of advisors that helped me dismantle my existing Hip Hop Made Easy program and rebuild it with purpose in mind. That's where Rhythm Works Integrative Dance was born. It ended up being so much more than I ever imagined. To see how it has changed and opened the eyes of the teachers who have come through the program really blows me away, but to hear the stories (and see some of them firsthand) of the students who have benefitted from the program means the world to me. The program was intended to open doors for students with special needs, but what is happening is that teachers are understanding how to better teach ALL of their students!

I now say "Performing is for my ego, teaching is for my heart, but Rhythm Works is for my soul." It really effects me at a much more intense level than anything I've ever done. Without a doubt, this is why I was left here on Earth. This is my purpose!

KC: Why do you think inclusion is important in the dance community?
TG: People who have special needs, especially those with moderate to severe challenges, have very little opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities. It's not because there a lack of desire on the part of the leaders of those actives, but there is a fear. I hear it all the time..."I don't want to hurt anyone...I don't want to offend anyone...I'm worried about the liability." But with a little bit of knowledge and a great toolbox of strategies, that fear goes away and these leaders see their potential to make a difference. As I mentioned before, dance is magical and science is showing that the brain connects in different ways when we dance. This absolutely benefits students with cognitive, physical and social challenges. Dance is cool. Dance is fun. We can connect through dance. We can speak through dance. This should be available for everyone.

KC: Can you tell us more about your creation, Dance In A Box?
TG: Dance In a Box is actually the parent company that houses a variety of teaching tools. This started with Hip Hop In a Box. HHIB contains 100 flashcards with "dance steps" on them. The dance steps were derived from higher level movement, but stripped down to be simple enough for a 3 year old to perform. Teachers can pull out the steps they'd like to use and then link them together and fit them to the music. The complexity comes in the way the steps are patterned and paced (which is what is included in The Hip Hop Made Easy Teaching Guide). The beauty of the cards is that ANY style of hip hop can be applied to the steps. We leave that up to the teacher! In its most basic form, the cards are used to help teachers understand developmentally appropriate movement, break it down in terms a young child can understand, and provide a cohesive framework across their hip hop program. In addition to Hip Hop In a Box, we now have 1-2-3 Dance, which is an additional 50 dance steps, the Coloring Book, Visual Aids Kids. Look for more tools coming in the next year!!!

KC: What's one of your favorite funny or heart warming stories about teaching dance?
TG: One of the funniest moments of my teaching career came early on. I was 17 and teaching a hip hop class to 3-5 year olds (this was in 1993). One of the 3 year olds blurted out "Miss Tricia, your butt's jiggling!" My response was "Well, when you're my age, your butt's going to jiggle too!" 

One of the most heartwarming stories happened recently when one of our Rhythm Works students finally jumped for the first time (we had been working on it for a while in class). He was so excited and the mom was screaming with excitement! For the following weeks she sent us videos of him jumping everywhere! I never gave much thought to how important a skill like jumping is to the daily function of a child. It's everything.

We also had a situation where a mother of one of our home-bound Rhythm Works students sent a message to the teacher saying "Thank you for changing my son from simple existing to living." Dance did that...and his phenomenal RWID instructor!

KC: Are there any cliches or preconceptions about dance you try to correct in your teaching?
TG: These days, the biggest preconception we work to correct is the parent's idea of "possible." So often, they want to give up in the beginning. Transitions to new activities are usually difficult. Their idea of "participation" may be too high and to be honest, they have hear "this isn't the right place for your child" way too many times. It's very important that we let the parents know what to expect and that WE WILL NOT GIVE UP! We will figure it out. It may take a week. It may take a year, and that's OK. You can literally see the parent start to relax and breathe once they know we're in it to win it. :)

KC: What's next for you and your businesses? Do you have any exciting projects on the horizon?
TG: haha...there's always something on the horizon! My mind doesn't stop! We'll be launching our continuing education membership, Inspire-Create-Educate (ICE), later this year! It will focus in on topics that teacher and therapists encounter that they'd like to dive deeper into. I like to say "you don't know what you don't know," but once you know it, you wonder how you ever made it this far without that knowledge! I'm also working on a few genre-specific add-ons for our RWID certified instructors. That is a HUGE project so I don't have a release date on that yet. I'm also consulting with a couple of other teaching artists who are looking to launch their own projects.

And now... just for funsies...

KC: Burritos or tacos?

TG: Tacos...only because I'm gluten free and burritos typically use flour tortillas! 

KC: Legwarmers or ballet skirts?

TG: Ballet Skirts...I'm getting hot flashes at this point in my life and just the thought of leg warmers makes me sweat...haha!

KC: Disco balls or rainbows?

TG: Rainbows all day. One of my favorite Maya Angelou speeches is "Rainbows in the Cloud." It encourages you to look for the rainbows in the clouds of your life. We all have difficult situations, but there's always a lesson or someone special that is the rainbow. She says to look for the rainbows in your clouds so you can be prepared to be a rainbow in someone else's cloud. She was a special human. 

KC: Center Stage or Flashdance?

TG: Flashdance...I'm pretty sure I had the audition choreography mastered. I'd do it in my living room when no one was looking.

KC: One word to describe yourself?

TG: Manifestor - I'd like to think that it's my superpower. I'm pretty good at finding a way to make things happen, even if they seem impossible.

YAY! Totally warm and fuzzy, right? Thank you so much, Tricia, for sharing your insights and wisdom! Now I hope you’ll do us both a favor and share this article with a friend (or 5) who you think would love to read it.

Your Friend In Dance - Katrena