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Meet Paula Vreulink of Southern California Dance Academy and Southern California Dance Theatre

Today we’d like to introduce you to Paula Vreulink.

Paula, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
After graduating from the Scapino Dans Akademie (a dance conservatory that was part of the Theater School in Amsterdam, The Netherlands), I moved to New York City on August 17, 1984 at the age of 19 with three suitcases full of dance necessities and a few other things. Having never been to the US and having no family or actual friends here, I thought that the Vanderbilt YMCA was a great place to start; I lasted three nights before I quickly found a room in a young women’s residence. Besides dancing most of the day, I would babysit and knit children’s and adult clothing and accessories.

After about a month, I was contracted by the Long Beach Ballet and I moved out to California shortly thereafter. Once again, I made new friends and today, I truly appreciate those (many) people who helped me along the way by giving me rides, allowing me to sleep on their couches, or gave me advice on how to become an adult. While there were many uncertainties and quite a few hardships in my life during my 20’s, I don’t like to dwell on them and when I do reflect back to this time, I recognize and appreciate that this path has made me the person who I am today.

Fast forward, nine-years of dancing with Long Beach Ballet, other local dance companies and supplementing my income as a waitress, I felt it was time for me to open up my own dance school that would reflect my own philosophy about dance, dancers, and how to run a dance school and company. The Southern California Dance Academy was born in 1993 and our dance company, the Southern California Dance Theatre was founded in 1994.

In hindsight, the school and company grew steadily and soon, we were able to produce three annual, full-length productions as well as several community outreach programs that were funded through grants that I had written. However, this growth also meant that I had to manage a lot more non-artistic duties and in 2002, I recognized my short-comings and enrolled in business management classes at Long Beach City College. I loved going back to school as an adult and eventually graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and a minor in Anthropology from Cal State Fullerton in 2010. It felt so gratifying to earn this degree as it not only symbolized the studies over eight years, but also the perseverance of managing the dance school, the dance company, and family life (as my spouse and I adopted our then three-month-old daughter in 2005).

However, one of the biggest lessons I learned is that when you acknowledge your own shortcomings, you can recognize these talents in other people, embrace them, and make these individuals part of your community. On the other hand, I expect integrity, hard work, and professionalism from those who work with me.

Nearly a decade later, while our school and company is for sure not the biggest organization in the region by far, I appreciate that I can run it according to my own standards and I feel fortunate for the people that surround me at the dance school and dance theatre, as well as in my personal life. When I work with people (and for me, that includes anyone from 3 to 73+), I like to look at their potential rather than what they are capable of doing at the moment. I want to give emerging dancers (and choreographers, set designers, seamstresses, and others) the opportunity to prove to themselves that they can reach beyond their current capabilities and that with hard work and perseverance, they can create roles that under different circumstances, they may not have had the opportunity to perform in. I also enjoy the diversity of our Southern California community and I love it when our patrons can see themselves represented in our ensemble.

Has it been a smooth road?
It has obviously not been a smooth road; however, as I mentioned previously, I’d rather look at ‘my struggles’ as an opportunity for growth than dwell on the situation. When I was 19 years old, and I didn’t get accepted into any of my ‘dream dance companies,’ I spoke to my school director, Ineke Sluiter. She told me that I was a very ‘inventive’ person and that I would find a way to be successful. After having to look up the word ‘inventive’ in the dictionary, I decided that I would not dwell on the past, but would look forward to the future instead. It’s a philosophy that I still try to live by. On occasion, when the situation gets to be too much, I may ‘sulk and mull’ over things for a little, but as quickly as possible, I will try to move on.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Southern California Dance Academy and Southern California Dance Theatre – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
As the school director of the Southern California Dance Academy and the artistic director of the Southern California Dance Theatre, we specialize in classical ballet technique, first and foremost. While we also offer workshops in other dance styles, classical ballet is the foundation for all dance forms. For the school, we offer classical ballet technique classes six days a week for dancers ages 3 through adult. We also offer a spring and summer dance camps for younger dancers ages 5-12 years old and a summer intensive for serious dancers ages 11 and older. For our 3-7-year-old age groups, I like to establish a foundation of creativity, musicality, coordination, and imagination. When dancers are 8+ years old, I believe it is important to focus on quality ballet technique, discipline, and self-motivation while continuing to build on their foundation. With that said, I try to recognize the physical and emotional starting point of each dancer, rather than setting a general standard across the board. Because of this, we have young dancers who maybe able to fulfill more complex roles, while on the other hand, we create roles for dancers who had a late start in their dance career.

With the Southern California Dance Theatre, we perform the Nutcracker Ballet each December, and a full-length classical ballet production such as Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Coppelia in each late spring. In 2020, we will premiere the production Alice in Wonderland where we will work with internationally recognized artist Jia Lu for sets and costumes with additional costumes by Megan Bolling (a former dance student at our school and now a designer at the Disney Resort). We also host the SoCal Dance & Choreography Festival each summer where we host works choreographed by local artists. This production includes choreography from all dance forms and is very unique. All performances are held at the Downey Theatre.

I am very proud that with the help of our dancers, local artists, parents, and supporters, we can produce quality full-length shows that reflect the Southern California community. We work with dancers as individuals and we will include or establish roles for all our dancers into our productions.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
While I was born and raised in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, I love living in Southern California because of the opportunities it has provided me, the people I have met, and of course, the weather! I love walking the dogs under a blue sky.
While I like to look at things positively, lately, the homelessness of people has made me very weary and sad. Having dealt with my own struggles to get established in Southern California, I wonder what was the road of people when they became homeless.

  • First dance classes is free at the Southern California Dance Academy!
  • For Ticket to the Nutcracker Ballet at the Downey Theatre –
  • Nutcracker ticket prices:
  • Orchestra seating: $32.00
  • Balcony seating: $30.00
  • Front row orchestra and balcony seating: $28.00
  • Community list tickets for groups of 20 patrons or more: $20.00
Contact Info:
  • Address: The Southern California Dance Academy and The Southern California Dance Theatre, 4410 East Greenmeadow Road. Long Beach, CA 90808
  • Website:
  • Phone: 562-397-2137
  • Email:
  • Instagram: socaldancetheatre
  • Facebook: Southern California Dance Theatre
  • Yelp: Southern California Dance Academy

Image Credit:

Susan Nalicat

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