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Three new faculty bring their talents to USC Kaufman

New members will share expertise in ballet, hip-hop, jazz and modern dance

by Kat Bouza
Kaufman faculty
Jackie Kopcsak, d. Sabela Grimes, center, and Saleemah Knight (Photos/courtesy of USC Kaufman)

The USC Kaufman School of Dance welcomes three celebrated and diverse new members to its faculty: Jackie Kopcsak, a ballet dancer and choreographer, Irvine; d. Sabela grimes, an interdisciplinary artist and choreographer; and Saleemah E. Knight, a choreographer and performer.

The three will begin teaching on campus this fall, working primarily with non-majors and students enrolled in one of USC Kaufman’s dance minors, before expanding their teaching duties to also include BFA dance majors when the first USC Kaufman class enrolls in fall 2015.

“We are thrilled that these wonderful dancers and artists have agreed to join our faculty,” said Dean Robert A. Cutietta. “Their commitment to the school, along with the announcement in May that William Forsythe is coming to USC Kaufman, begins a steady stream of exciting announcements coming from the school.”

Jackie Kopcsak

A graduate of the MFA dance program at UC Irvine, Kopcsak originated roles in many new contemporary works and danced leading roles in most of the classical ballet repertoire. While earning her B.A. in history from the University of Washington, Kopcsak founded, directed and choreographed for the university’s first ballet company. A certified teacher in primary through level 3 of the American Ballet Theatre’s National Training Curriculum, Kopcsak is a sought-after teacher and has taught for various schools around the country.

“As the school’s first professor of practice, Jackie is a perfect fit for this position,” said Jodie Gates, vice dean and director of the USC Kaufman School. “Her background and training in classical ballet is beautifully informed, and her knowledge of dance history is integral to what USC Kaufman is all about. Her interest in preserving the tradition and linage of classical ballet will be fundamental to all of our student dancers.”

d. Sabela grimes

Dubbed by the Los Angeles Times as “the Los Angeles dance world’s best-kept secret,” grimes is a choreographer and educator whose work seeks to explore and deconstruct the culture and aesthetics of contemporary hip-hop and street dance. A self-described “Afro-futurist,” grimes studied African-American literature before receiving his MFA in dance and choreography from UCLA. Previously, grimes performed as a principal dancer in Philadelphia’s award-winning Rennie Harris Puremovement company. He will be a lecturer at USC Kaufman, as will Knight.

“Since hip-hop is a key foundational aspect of our program, the hiring of an expert who can inform students on the history and style of hip-hop is crucial,” Gates said. “Sabela will bring a wealth of experience to USC Kaufman students. His knowledge of African-American literature and cultural studies, along with his interest in the Afro-Diasporic social dance, makes him an extraordinary addition to our program.”

Saleemah E. Knight

Knight is a performer and choreographer who has trained with outstanding dance companies, including Gus Giordano Chicago, River North Chicago and Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. She has danced alongside some of the top names in music, including Beyonce, Chris Brown, Ludacris and Most recently, she was a featured dancer in the Broadway musical, The Lion King. Knight holds a BFA in dance from the University of Arizona and an MFA in dance from UC Irvine, where she taught jazz dance technique. Her work at USC Kaufman will encompass both jazz and modern dance technique instruction as well as general dance performance coursework. She is represented by the MSA Agency.

“Saleemah crosses boundaries and blends styles better then most teachers I know,” Gates said. “Her ability to cross over from the commercial world onto the concert stage is unique and will be a very important aspect for the USC Kaufman School. She inspires and demands a very strong work ethic out of her students, and watching her work with young dancers is magic.”


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