Jackie Oka | December 2016

Hometown: Palos Verdes, California

Major: World Arts & Cultures

Minor: Visual and Performing Arts Education


Q: A little background about you: Name, Hometown, degree major, year of graduation (or year of study if you are not a graduate yet) and the type of arts that you focus on.

A: My name is Jackie Oka and I am from Palos Verdes Estates, CA. I graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s in World Arts and Cultures/ Dance and a minor in Visual and Performing Arts Education in 2015. I primarily focus on Hip Hop dance. 

Q: How did you discover your interest in the arts and how did you know that it was something that you wanted to pursue professionally, as an artist or as an artist teacher?

A: When I was younger, I would always imitate Brittany Spears, N'Sync, and Michael Jackson. Whenever I heard their music, I would get up and dance. Since 6th grade, I participated in dance classes as extra curricular activities and began to be part of dance teams. Then, in 2010, I was accepted into UCLA’s High School Summer Dance/ Theater Intensive where I met Kevin Kane and my perspective about the arts completely shifted. It was at this intensive when I realized I wanted to be a Dance major in college. I participated in an “Arts and Life” class which discusses the power of the arts and the impact it can have on surrounding communities. This class changed my life and made me realize how important arts education is. 

Q: Describe what the young artists in your VAPAE afterschool arts program are working on and the process they’re using.

A: This year, I had the honor of working at University High School in Los Angeles with Tali Aires and Kevin Belisario. We ran an afterschool dance class for anyone who wanted to participate. During this dance class, we taught them the foundation and fundamentals of Hip-Hop dance. We encouraged our students to learn the vocabulary first, then explore and create choreography. The biggest concept we wanted our students to walk away with is that Hip Hop dance has a history and foundation, just like all the other styles of dance. We helped guide the students to create a piece for their Homecoming pep rally performed for their peers at school.

Q: Why is an enrichment opportunity like this important for those participating? What do they gain?

A: I think an enrichment opportunity like this is important because it creates a safe space for students to attend afterschool programs. This program allows students the opportunity to explore movement and develop a certain skill set to help them artistically. It is also a space where they can learn, flourish and create through dance. Throughout the process, hopefully the students gain confidence, leadership abilities, communication skills and collaboration techniques.  It is a program designed to help students grow into artists and support them as students. 

Q: Did you have an opportunity like this when you were a younger artist? If yes, how did it help shape your love of art? If no, in what ways could a program like this have helped you?

A: Growing up, I was very fortunate to have dance classes available at local studios and in school. I was part of my High School Choreo Team for all four years, as well as a member of Future Shock Los Angeles for three years. Being so involved with dance gave me different communities and different families. I created close friendships and mentorships throughout the years through dance. I began to respect the dance and Hip Hop culture so much more because of its acceptance. As I continued to dance growing up, my love and passion for performing grew stronger. I always loved the feeling of being on stage with some of my best friends. I also realized how fortunate and privileged I was to have the opportunity to perform at such a young age. Being able to perform on stage is something I will never take for granted. I know all the hard work and dedication my elders and mentors did in order for me to be on stage. Instead, I honor those who came before me by performing every show with hope to inspire one person in the audience. 

Q: What has this experience as a teaching artist or arts facilitator taught you about yourself?

A: Every time I teach, I learn something new. For this particular location and group of students, I learned a lot about collaboration and how to work with students toward a common goal. I think this year was tough for the teaching artists at University High School in a variety of ways. However, we learned how to really listen to what the students want, and how we can use our skills and knowledge to help them reach their goal. There were many ups and downs throughout the process, but, I think each student impacted me in a specific way. I wasn’t as concerned with if the students learned the steps exactly how I taught it, but I was really satisfied with the days they showed up and put in effort. Especially since it is a program they don’t HAVE to go to. But, they wanted to be there and create something to perform for their peers and I truly admired their perseverance. In the end, it is not always easy to listen to a complete stranger give you directions, but they trusted us and put their hopes in our hands. It was a lot of weight to carry at one point, yet we worked and tried really hard because we gained a relationship with the students. At the end, there was a mutual respect and understanding. There were no different levels of “power”, but instead we worked together for a common goal. 

Q: What do you personally gain as a teaching artist, arts facilitator?

A: Being a teaching artist has taught me a lot about accountability, leadership, and confidence. Every student that walks into your classroom in counting on you to deliver a certain quality of work, and I think I used to think I could teach anything on the spot. However, now I really think about the needs and wants of each particular group of students. When I first started teaching, I was really nervous because I always doubted my abilities. I continually compared myself to others and would always put myself down. But, I actually gained some confidence in it through the students. When they come to me with questions about certain moves, and I am able to answer them I gain a little more confidence in that I know what I’m doing. Lastly, I think leadership is a certain skill I learned from being put in situations where people turn to you for answers and I have to problem solve on the spot. There’s so much to gain as a teaching artist, and I learn from the students, just as much as they learn from me. 

Q: What are the benefits to you as a student/graduate in the UCLA VAPAE program? Was this program a good choice for you? If so, why?

A: Yes! I think this program was a great choice for me. I am currently making a living working with youth in the arts. So, I am putting my degree to its exact use. I learned so much from the VAPAE program, from lesson planning to how to engage and talk with students. I also really appreciate how they are still looking out for the graduates and want to see if what they are teaching in an institution carries over to the field. Being the the VAPAE program also gave me a new community of artist to work and collaborate with. I met Kevin Kane in 2010, and now he is still so relevant in my life and mentoring me in something I find so much joy in. 

Q: Are there any anecdotes from your VAPAE Studio Sessions (or Arts Education Teaching Sequence) that stand out to you? Perhaps you had a break‐through with a student or saw some particularly noticeable growth in that student through this program, collaboration etc. Maybe something surprised you or made you think about art or teaching in a new way.

A: Yes, definitely. There were a few incidents that surprised me in such an inspiring way. One moment I particularly remember is coming to class one day and seeing almost 20 girls ready to show us their own routines. They choreographed together and worked as a group to create dances they wanted to show us. I thought this is was inspiring, because despite their access to dance classes or training, they used their intuition to create something of their own. I saw a sense of pride and confidence in each of the students when they performed it for us. I thought it was incredible to see such thriving and hungry leaders work together to create something they could take ownership of. I was really impressed and wanted to help them even more. 

Q: What are your short-term and long‐term career goals?

A: As of right now, I hope to continue working as an artist and perform as much as possible in various places around the world. I also hope to continue teaching the youth who need and want an outlet such as dance. I want to give access to those who do not have as many opportunities. Recently, I was just promoted to “Student Outreach Coordinator” for the Flourish Foundation, a non-profit arts organization I work for. So, I hope to expand and explore in that field. In the long-term, I want to go back to graduate school and receive a Master’s in Education Counseling to become either a High School or College Counselor. Although I love teaching and find it rewarding in so many ways, I really enjoy the personal relationships and connections I make with the students. I hope to help guide them in any direction they wish to go. In order to help students through the education system, I think I need to learn a lot more about it.