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Meet Jackie “Miss Funk” Lopez-Foaad of Versa-Style Dance Company in North Hollywood

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jackie “Miss Funk” Lopez-Foaad.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I am an artist/dancer, and my dancer name is Miss Funk! I describe myself as a LOVING, yet RESILIENT FULL FIGURED FIERCE LATINA!! I’m a first-generation Latina ~ first generation in every way imaginable. My parents immigrated to Los Angeles from El Salvador. My mother was 8 months pregnant when she finally made it to the states. Mind you, my mother was caught 3 times by immigration police, while pregnant all 3 times and on the 4th attempt she made it safely to the states. My resilience started in her womb! My parents immigrating to the States was the greatest gift they were able to provide me.

I just turned 39 years young on January 20th. I was born in 1979 and was in raised in Los Angeles, specifically Echo Park (for the first 20 yrs of my life), which at the time was negatively infested by gangs, drugs and violence. I went to Logan Elementary, which is where my love for dance began as I had access to an after-school provider program called “LA’s Best”. That’s when I got involved with drill team and Mexican Folklorico.

I am the oldest of three and being the first-born child within my immediate family was very rough in many ways, as I had no real guidance until I got to high school. While attending John Marshall High School, I always did my best to stay involved in the ARTS, as music and movement always have fascinated me. That’s when I met my Theater Workshop teacher Kevin Kane, who up until this day is very much connected and supportive of my endeavors. Theater Workshop SAVED my life! The ARTS SAVED my LIFE!! That was the turning point…

Kevin Kane asked me a simple question, “Are you going to College?” For the first time, I felt heard and felt that someone deeply cared for me, but most importantly BELIEVED in me. When I was attending John Marshall High School my GPA was too low (2.0) to attend any university. So, I decided with the guidance and mentorship of Kevin Kane, to attend Los Angeles City College. While attending college, I was also working full time as a waitress at IHOP and soon after as a waitress at Red Robin. I had no choice, but to work very hard at a very young age to take care of myself, due to my parents’ lack of support. My father’s gambling issues worsen, and it led my siblings and I to become independent at a very young age. In the midst of the all the chaos, I would do my best to attend dance classes, as it was the only positive outlet that allowed me to sweat out the toxins and be completely present in the moment.

Unfortunately, and fortunately, I became pregnant at the young age of 20 (my son is now 17 yrs. old) and that was my biggest wake up call. I soon realized, that I was going to be a young mother to a baby boy. My circumstances were still very tough and I was committed to raising my son in an environment that was positive and uplifting. I wanted to provide my son with a safe home! I soon moved to North Hollywood (as I had to move from home because I was ashamed of getting pregnant at a young age and without getting married). I decided to take my education a lot more seriously and that’s when I started to attend Los Angeles Valley College. I took the necessary classes to eventually transfer and I’m the first in my family to attend UCLA and graduate Summa Cum Lauda (4.0). I graduated with a major in World Arts and Cultures with a concentration in Dance. UCLA provided HOPE in dark times. I have no idea how I did it?! I commuted to UCLA daily from Sun Valley, attended school full-time, while working full-time and also raising a little boy, the light at the end of the tunnel was my only OPTIMISM. Plus being a first-generation full-figured Latina woman at a dance program with no technical training was so frustrating and humbling. But I also took advantage of all of my resources and I completed my senior project at UCLA, while also engaging amazing artists/dancers from the city of Los Angeles, as providing performance opportunities in spaces such as Freud Playhouse at UCLA. That is when I met my partner in dance and now my husband/love of my life and that was the birth of Versa-Style Dance Company. Leigh Foaad aka Breeze-lee and I are the Founders and Artistic Directors of Versa-Style Dance Company and together we share a common passion for dance and performance and this connection resulted in the creation of Versa-Style 13 years ago.

Versa-Style is now a 501 C 3 non-profit organization and dance ensemble that consists of committed and conscientious artists representing the diversity and beautiful complexity of Los Angeles. We create highly energetic work that fuses dances that are culturally significant to our community. These forms include Hip-Hop styles such as 90s Hip-Hop, House, Popping, Locking, Whacking and Boogaloo, and Afro- Latin styles such as Salsa, Merengue, Cumbia and Afro-Cuban to name a few. As a reaction to the widespread media misrepresentation of these dance forms, Versa-Style specifically aims to perform for the youth of Los Angeles to instill the roots, history, and social and political issues surrounding the art of our generation. Versa-Style Dance Company seeks to empower youth through the movement and culture of hip-hop dance by giving back to the communities which we came from. Our goal is to give young would-be artists the pipeline to fulfill their passion in the dance community and to educate our audiences on the positivity and roots of hip-hop culture.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Going a little deeper, I grew up in very hard times, as my father had a gambling addiction that led to major poverty and scarcity and he was mentally ill in many ways but was never necessarily diagnosed with mental illness. His lifestyle led to a big absence and void in our home, he was never around and when he was home he was very abusive (mentally and physically). Looking back now, I can see how my father needed to seek help, but never did. I think this explains his deep love for music. One fond memory I have of him is when he would play his guitar, while singing his favorite tunes. It’s the only time I encountered pure joy in his heart, but those memories are limited. Unfortunately, he brought a lot of pain to my mother, siblings and I, due to his unstable lifestyle. Unfortunately, he passed away about 2 ½ yrs. ago, due to his drinking problem in which his liver gave out.

My mother was a housewife and a victim to it all, her job was to raise my siblings and I with a lot of love, but as an immigrant woman who did not speak English, her resources were limited and there was little to no guidance. She is still in my life and I love her dearly, but I get overwhelmed and nervous as my mother views her children as her retirement fund and plan. She never really worked and, in many ways, suffered depression, one that my siblings and I were very much affected by.

This lifestyle was one I knew at a very young age I did not desire. It was incredibly tough growing up in these circumstances. Being a first-generation will always be complicated, filled with pain and pride all in one. I’m the first in my family to work at the age of 15, first to move away from a rough/unhealthy neighborhood that I identified as home, first to get pregnant and raise a boy with very little support, first to apply for college and financial aid (which was a gruesome experience due to lack of knowledge), first to attend college (while also commuting to UCLA and raising a son & also trying to survive an unhealthy verbally abusive relationship), first to graduate college and put my degree to work. But looking back now; all of the hardships I went through is what made me who I am today.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Versa-Style Dance Company – what should we know?
This year is Versa-Style’s 13th anniversary; this in itself is a huge accomplishment.
For many years, many organizations have formed into independent, non-profit service organizations that have initiated programs and services for the youth of Los Angeles. However, many of these organizations eventually close their doors or cease to exist due to a lack of resources and support for the arts. Versa-Style Dance Company, now in its 13th year, is proud to be one of the few active certified 501 (c)(3) non-profit “Hip-hop dance organizations” that still exist in Los Angeles, specifically serving the children and youth of impoverished communities within Los Angeles. Versa-Style Dance Company is entering a challenging and exciting time, as economic pressures increase within the arts and arts education and the demand for our services continues to rise.

We aim to perform for the youth of Los Angeles to instill the roots, history, and social and political issues surrounding the art of hip-hop dance. We accomplish this goal through our pipeline system, referred to as the “Versa-Style Path to Success.” The pipeline is a self-sufficient cycle of community endeavors that includes performances, dance classes, artist development, and hosting community events.
Our past events range from workshops, to dance competitions, to festivals, to concert stage performances. Dancers of all ages and supporters of the community come together to network and exchange, connected by the unifying love for music and dance. We believe that these events exemplify the history and values of hip-hop culture and are pivotal for keeping the culture alive and preserved for younger generations. Due to mass media misrepresentation of hip-hop, it is our mission to make sure the youth of our communities both understand and respect the true essence of the culture in its purest form.

One of the programs we are most fond of is our thriving pre-professional junior company, Versa-Style Next Generation (VSNG). Founded in 2009 by Breeze-Lee and me, Versa-Style Next Generation is a group of highly talented and dedicated young dancers from the greater Los Angeles area. Participation in the program offers the opportunity to participate in a pre-professional Hip-hop dance company and with hard work, dedication, and growth they move up to the professional touring company. Students receive personalized dance mentorship from Breeze-lee and I, as well as Principle Dancers Ernesto Galarza and Anthony Berry, whom are VSNG alumni. The group participates in community performances, some travel performances, and all Versa-Style sponsored events such as competitions, festivals, productions, dance intensives, and other classes. It is an incredible opportunity to work with incredible Hip-hop dance artists. 90% of the current touring company has completed the VSNG program.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
One of my favorite quotes is “It takes a village to raise a child” … it has most definitely taken a village to create Versa-Style. There are so many individuals whom we can thank and give recognition.

Monica Horan Rosenthal, is an American actress best known for her role as Amy MacDougall-Barone on the television sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond, but I’m blessed to say that she’s also my mentor, colleague and dear friend. I was blessed to have met Monica at a very young age and her mentorship has been a blessing in countless ways. Monica Rosenthal is the co-founder of The Flourish Foundation. The Flourish Foundation’s mission is to support and provide opportunities for a complete education for middle school, high school and college-aged students in the Los Angeles area, with a primary focus on the performing arts. This mission is based on the belief that the arts are essential for the development of academic proficiency, creativity, leadership abilities and meaningful community connections. It provides local youth with essential pathways to bright, stable and productive futures… helping them flourish. I’m proud to add, that I was one of the students that was deeply affected by The Flourish Foundation’s mission and programing, making me a long-time poster child. Fast forward, 15 years later, I’m now the Executive Director of The Flourish Foundation. Lastly, The Flourish Foundation is an essential partner to the vision and mission of Versa-Style Dance Company. Together, both organizations are a force, changing the lives of many inner-city youths of Los Angeles.

Dr. Rennie Harris, (Founder, Artistic Director, Choreographer and Director) was born and raised in an African-American community in North Philadelphia. Since the age of 15, Rennie has been teaching workshops and classes at universities around the country and is a powerful spokesperson for the significance of “street” origins in any dance style. In 2002, Rennie was invited as a guest lecturer at UCLA’s World Arts and Cultures/Dance Dept. and that’s when I was inspired by the possibilities of street dance and dance-theater. Rennie paved the way for hip-hop dance companies worldwide, specifically Versa-Style. Rennie Harris has brought these “social” dances to the “concert” stage and his company, Rennie Harris Puremovement (RHPM) are known internationally for creating a cohesive dance style that finds a cogent voice in the theater. RHPM is considered the pioneer of “Street Dance” Theater and Rennie was voted as one of the most influential people in the last one hundred years of Philadelphia history. He has been a major influence in our artistic endeavors and an inspiration to the work we do as a dance company and owe a lot of our knowledge and fortune to him.

We have an immense amount of gratitude for Versa-Style’s production team, Brandon Juezan (Project Manager and Co-Event Organizer), Harry Weston (Partnerships Manager) & Ernesto Galarza (Social Media Director, Co-Event Organizer and Co-Director of Versa-Style Next Generation). Without them, Versa-Style would not be where it is today. They all have been raised through the Versa-Style’s Pipeline and now we have come full circle as they all work for our organization.

Lastly, Leigh Foaad aka Breeze-lee for your constant love and support though out all these years since 2003. We started out as friends because we shared a common passion for dance and performance; never did I ever imagine that I would find an incredible human being that was aligned with my vision and passion for the arts. Not only are we the founders of Versa-Style Dance Company and Versa-Style Next Generation, we are also a power couple that’s committed to each other’s love. Our most recent highlight was getting married. I look forward to the rest of our lives together…

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Image Credit:
George Simien and Beata Bernina

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