Meet L.A. Cultural Exchange

L.A. Cultural Exchange
L.A. Cultural Exchange - Photo by Sidney Paiva.

[NoHo Arts District, CA] – Meet L.A. Cultural Exchange, they have been bringing young artists to train in L.A. and the NoHo Arts District since 2012. They’ve just relaunched with their 18+ L.A. Dancer program – a month-long dance training program in L.A.

What’s a cultural exchange?

It’s when a student (typically a high school or college student) from abroad comes to a town, in this case, Los Angeles, to study, live with a host family, and experience life living like a local. But L.A. Cultural Exchange did it with a twist. They only worked with young artists and now, specifically dancers.

L.A. Cultural Exchange
L.A. Cultural Exchange – High School Young Artists Exchange Program. Photo by student Eric Halmes.

You were one of a handful of high school exchange programs in L.A. But what made your agency different? 

We were the only arts-focused high school exchange program in California. We only accepted dancers, actors, singers, musicians, filmmakers, artists, etc. to live with a host family, attend high school and train in their craft. We created a training program plan for each student. If a dancer had limited hip hop experience we would help them focus on training in all styles at their level, which studios to go to, which choreographers to take, etc. We did this detailed plan for each young artist exchange student from dancer to filmmaker. Most of the training they did was here in North Hollywood! A big shout out to Young Actors Studio, the Millennium Dance Complex, and the former dance studio, mL (Movement Lifestyle), which was our dancers’ second home.

L.A. Cultural Exchange
L.A. Cultural Exchange – Summer Dance in L.A. Photo by Sidney Paiva.

Why did you add the Summer Dance in L.A. program?

We saw that many dancers couldn’t come for a semester or academic year. It was a shame because L.A. is the hip hop/commercial dance capital and has so much dance training to offer. So we decided to do a super-charged, condensed version of our semester program for a dancer. It was one super fun month with six days of dance at all the studios, host family, and loads of activities to explore Los Angeles. The program was a hit. 

How did Covid affect L.A. Cultural Exchange’s programs?

The pandemic devastated our business but not our spirits. It dispersed our network of school administrators, teachers and agencies. It closed down dance studios – long-standing dance institutions too. But the worst thing was it destroyed our young artists’ hopes to train in L.A. and do a semester abroad. They can’t get that time back. 

We thought a lot about L.A. Cultural Exchange’s mission – to provide cultural exchange programs to young artists from around the world and the only program open to other U.S. states. But we were stuck. We refused to work with the LAUSD because they’ve priced their international student tuition so high that it goes against the goal of cultural exchange being accessible to all. 

But Los Angeles is an arts town and our company has worked in the L.A. arts communities for decades. So we decided to focus on the things we love and love doing. 

L.A. Cultural Exchange
L.A. Cultural Exchange – Photo by student Eric Halmes.

Why did you create the 18+ L.A. Dancer program?

In case one couldn’t tell, we are dance fans. L.A. is the hip hop/commercial dance capital. We have so much dance training and it’s growing. We added an 18+ L.A. Dancer program in August 2019 and that was our favorite. The 18 and over demographic got really no help. How could a dancer reasonably come to L.A. and, first, find housing that wasn’t a million dollars? It was nearly impossible. How will they get around if they don’t drive or don’t want to drive on the 101 or the 405? What about friends? If they come alone, how will they enjoy themselves? 

Our month-long 18+ L.A. Dancer program is designed to help them dance in L.A. without worrying about where to stay, how to get around, being alone and not knowing what to do for fun. It’s a program to help dancers see if dance and dance in L.A. is right for them! It’s an entire month of dance training and fun. But the catch is, we only accept four dancers at a time.

How does the program help dancers?

When a dancer can concentrate on dance without the stress of housing, transport, which studios to go to, which choreographers to take, and a built-in friend network, they’re simply better dancers. They can concentrate on their training, which is our program’s focus. They can concentrate on taking class with choreographers that match their style. They can concentrate on improving a style they may not get the chance to take back home. They can concentrate on creating content for their dance reel so they’re more marketable dancers. They can concentrate on becoming better, well-rounded and happier dancers.

In addition, the program offers private training with L.A. choreographers in different styles. So each month the dancers decide which styles they want to concentrate on. For example, if they’re weaker in heels or popping or if they’re strong in house and heels the privates will concentrate on those. The privates are tailored to each group’s needs and wants. But each session includes freestyle training and acts as a mock audition. The choreographers give guidance on how the L.A. dance community operates, and tips on how to be a better dancer in L.A. The privates also fit with our program’s objective of helping the dancers establish a network of dancers in L.A.

How is L.A. Cultural Exchange’s program different than other dance programs in L.A.?

Well, dance in L.A. isn’t pizza. There are enough slices to go around! Our program is based in L.A. and it’s nearly year round – March through November. We do specific two-week programs during the “off season” for former dancers and dance studios. We work with all the studios and a variety of incredibly diverse choreographers for our private sessions. Throughout their time with us, we do a professional photo shoot and take them to unique L.A. spots to shoot dance content for them to add to their reel and use for social media posts. Since we only accept four dancers at a time, we interview each dancer and review their dance links to make sure they’re the right fit for L.A.

We want to make dance accessible to everyone who has the courage to come dance in L.A. So we are building back our scholarship funds. At this time we offer the Carol Scholarship for U.K. dancers.

What are your plans for L.A. Cultural Exchange?

We’re looking at ways to expand the 18+ L.A. Dancer program in phases. First, we will expand the number of dancers to 10 per month once we finalize our additional housing, which is always the hardest part of dancing in L.A. Second, we will add longer training periods from one to three months with the longer programs having one-on-one privates, more mock auditions and freestyle training sessions, plus professional dance reel creation. Lastly, we would like to restart our under-18 Summer Dance in L.A. program so we can help younger dancers who will then return to our 18+ program for more training.

L.A. Cultural Exchange

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