The Tannery World Dance and Cultural Center (TWDCC) is going into its 10th year as a space where artists can explore their talents and become mentors. Over the years, professional dancers Cat Willis and Micha Scott worked on uplifting Santa Cruz’s Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities through teaching dance styles such as hip-hop, jazz, and modern.
In a predominantly white city, TWDCC is proud to be Black-founded and -owned, providing a safe space for its BIPOC students.
“People really see how much representation matters. It matters on a lot of different really deep levels,” Scott said. “And being here in Santa Cruz, where it can be hard to see people that look like you, especially those Black dancers and Black artists.”
For the last 10 years, Scott and Willis have been mentoring future dancers in the Santa Cruz community.
Eva Diop, a 15-year-old TWDCC student, and Santa Cruz Outreach Enrichment Dance (SCOPE) scholarship recipient, is one of those dancers. Diop is grateful for the ways the TWDCC taught her to be confident.
“Without TWDCC I would not be an artist. The Tannery helped me not only find my passion for dance but also helped me feel confident in my skin,” Diop said. “Having strong biracial women as my role models and dance teachers have changed the way I feel about myself.”
UC Santa Cruz alumna Angela Chambers joined the TWDCC as a substitute instructor in 2014 and is now the development director and projects manager. Chambers said the TWDCC was one of the first places in Santa Cruz she felt safe and comfortable as a BIPOC individual.
At UCSC, a predominantly white campus, Chambers felt discouraged and did not think she would find a place in the professional dance world. After graduating, Chambers planned to leave Santa Cruz, but this all changed when she started teaching at the TWDCC.
“I knew I could be comfortable here. I felt safe. I felt seen,” Chambers said. “Cat offered me a position at the desk, and then later gave me a position as a teacher. I’ve never looked back.”
Although no longer teaching in-person classes, co-founder Micha Scott said teachers encourage their students to continue to do their best virtually. From a modern dance class for kids to an introduction to pilates class, TWDCC has built a list of over 30 virtual classes.
The TWDCC is also looking forward to co-producing its first BIPOC Queer Arts Festival barbeque called “BBQueer” with Motion Pacific Dance, another studio in Santa Cruz. Working with Motion Pacific Dance, TWDCC hopes to create a stage for self-expression and artistry for the LGBTQ community in Santa Cruz.
“The Tannery provided career opportunities for me to really pursue my dream of being a community organizer, performer, and teacher,” Chambers said. “It’s home.”
BIPOC queer dancers interested in performing for the BBQueer event can contact TWDCC at firstname.lastname@example.org.