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UTEP dance faculty celebrates pop music through movement

Gaby Velasquez
The cast of “Iconic Pop” rehearses for opening night on Feb. 9 at 7:30 p.m. at The Wise Family Theatre in Fox Fine Arts.

As part of their annual tradition, this year the UTEP Department of Theatre and Dance presents “Iconic Pop,” a presentation that represents the celebration of the pop genre and dance.

“Iconic Pop” will be opening at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 9, at UTEP’s Wise Family Theatre.

“Leanne Rinelli, who is one of the head choreographers for this evening, had this idea on doing this idea of doing Mexican pop singers or Latin pop singers,” said Lisa Smith, professor of dance at UTEP. “We thought it was a great idea, something fresh and something that students might really enjoy, not only seeing but performing, so we decided to go with that under the name of ‘Iconic Pop.’”

The dance concert consists of different dance numbers that represent the different eras of music and dance. 

“ ‘Iconic Pop’ is a celebration of pop music. Not every piece has pop music, but it’s the majority. We have some work that features the music of the ‘50s like Frank Sinatra, and also the ‘60s and ‘70s,” said Rinelli, assistant dance professor and choreographer.

Smith, who is in charge of two pieces in the program, said her longer work is called “Psychodelia,” and it’s a tribute to the music of the ‘60s that features music from The Beatles and other artists.

“Aside from being excited to perform, I am excited for the audience to get to see pieces that take place during WW2, the 60’s and present day,” said Damian A. Padilla a sophomore student majoring in communication studies and dance. “Myron Nadel, Lisa Smith, Leanne Rinelle and the entire cast have worked hard in putting together a great production. I truly believe the audience will really enjoy the entire show.”

Smith also said that all the pieces were arranged and recorded by a local band called Later Tonight.

Padilla, who is also a UTEP Golddigger, said he has dance at several studios and is used to the commercial aspect of dance, but coming into this show has really pushed him to the more classical and theatrical dance.

“By doing this show, it has given me the training and experience of doing shows that I normally wouldn’t. This is something that I truly value as a dancer, so that when I go out to dance in the real world, I have a lot of experience in all areas of dance,” Padilla said. “I feel there has to be a balance in knowing how to dance commercial dance (most of the dancing seen at sporting events and music videos on YouTube) and classical/theatrical dance (the dancing seen in musicals, dance shows, etc.), and this show has allowed me to accomplish and work towards that balance.”

For this production, the dance faculty decided to emphasize contemporary dance—some of the numbers will have a jazz or aerobics influence, but with contemporary dance as the star of the show.

“Contemporary can look a lot of different ways. It can be more abstract–a lot of in and out of the floor, jumping,” Rinelli said. “It can look a lot of different ways to choreographers, and it keeps changing as time’s changing.”

Music is as important as dance in this production. Some of the music chosen by Rinelli for her music numbers include Mexican artist, Natalia Lafourcade, Mon Laferte and Carla Morrison.

“This process was definitely driven by the music, I came across these artists that I never heard of because I’m not from here, and I loved their music and the way it sounded,” she said. “I don’t speak Spanish, so it had nothing to do with the words, so it was nice I wasn’t choreographing to words. I was choreographing to what it felt like to me.”

“Iconic Pop” dancers had to go through a couple of tryouts to be cast in a dance number.

“We held auditions and cast students and this is after the faculty has already met and decided what we’re going to do,” Smith said. “Then we bring all the dancers together and show them a bit of choreography, they learn it and try out and then we make a cast list from there and begin the rehearsals right away.”

With rehearsals starting last fall and practicing in the afternoons for three to four hours per rehearsal, the process has been long and exhausting for both dancers and choreographers, but according to Rinelli, this is a process she enjoys.

Gaby Velasquez
The cast of “Iconic Pop” rehearses for opening night on Feb. 9 at 7:30 p.m. at The Wise Family Theatre in Fox Fine Arts.












“I love the process, I love how the music got everyone excited and into it. It seemed like they just connected to it, and really helped them to get into the material right away. And for me just seeing the excitement as we were building–sometimes that’s more exciting than the outcome,” she said.

Padilla is no stranger to spending hours in a dance studio. Besides being a UTEP Golddigger and a dancer in “Iconic Pop,” Padilla is an assistant coach for the Jefferson Silva Silverettes and dance instructor at local dance studios.

Padilla said his days consist in going to Golddiggers practice, taking from two to three dance classes a day, teach three dance classes at the studio where he works, and coming back to UTEP for rehearsals.

“My days never end and my body certainly pays for it. I wake up sore and tired, but I have to keep pushing on. There are some days I want to just quit, but my friends are always there for me,” Padilla said. “At the end of the day, I love what I do. P.T Barnum once said, ‘The noblest art is that of making others happy’, and that’s is what I love for.”

As any other artist, choreographers find their inspiration from different sources, and as any other piece of art, it takes time and effort to put together a dance number.

“If it’s a full-length piece or shorter one it depends because it takes time and a process of trial and error, different pieces come from different sources. This one I knew where I wanted to go. I had this music chosen and the style I wanted to explore,” Smith said. “Even within knowing what you want to do, you have to find the movement language that is particular to this thing you want to create.”

Smith said that as an artist, it’s always rewarding to see a piece of art coming alive, and when it comes to a dance number, it’s not only about the dance, but about the performers.

“It’s lovely to see the performers come alive in this work, it’s wonderful as a choreographer to see your piece, you visualized it, you created, you crafted and then you see it,” Smith said. “It’s wonderful to see your work and see these upcoming young performers grow each time they’re in a different dance.”

With different dance numbers, and costumes that represent each music genre, “Iconic Pop” features something special for every spectator in the audience.

“I think there’s something for everyone in the program and people often say that, but this time, truly, there is a variety of pieces and music,” Smith said. “I think is going to be very fresh and very fun.”

The performance will also be presented at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 10, 15, 16 and 17. A matinee performance is also available at 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 11. Tickets are on sale at and the Wise Family Theatre box office.

Gaby Velasquez
The cast of “Iconic Pop” rehearses for opening night on Feb. 9 at 7:30 p.m. at The Wise Family Theatre in Fox Fine Arts.
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Claudia Flores, Editor-in-chief
Gaby Velasquez, Photo editor
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UTEP dance faculty celebrates pop music through movement