Lux Get Fit Week: Fresno Dance Collective / NOCO

NOCO, as a collective, gathers members with a variety of talents. One must stop to note the heaps of heart and soul that thrives in this culture made up of visual artists, choreographers, dancers, aerialists and musicians.

Meet the delightfully charming and beautiful, Amy Querin (Director of NOCO):

As the founder and director of the nonprofit organization, NOCO/Fresno Dance Collective, is our mission. The scope or umbrella of NOCO is usually wider than people realize, especially because we're 3-fold. Our mission is to expand the culture of dance through performance, education, and outreach. Our audiences, clients and fan-base are sometimes introduced to us by only one of our tiers. For example, our education program includes offering year-round aerial classes to the community. Many of our weekly aerial clients are surprised to find out that we also host annual events in the cultural arts as part of our performance program or that we collaborate with many like-minded organizations in Fresno to bring arts to our community as part of our outreach.

Our mission is what helps guide me, as the director, in all of my decisions as we further our exempt purposes in Fresno.

Lux: What inspired you to form NOCO?

Amy: I relocated to Fresno, CA in 2006 after finishing a 3-year graduate degree, MFA in dance performance and choreography. I was primed to start working in a thriving dance community in a variety of ways. I couldn't wait to get into my new city and meet the community of dance here, to perform, to choreograph, to teach, to write grants, to host and plan events.  My cheerful ambition was challenged as I searched Fresno for a company to work with and through, and I eventually decided to saddle up and 'be the change I wanted to see.' I believe Fresno can support a resident professional dance company, and Im thrilled to announce that after 5 years of directing NOCO, Fresno is doing just that! I'm not really a natural director, but I've somehow found my own way to run a successful nonprofit organization.

I started NOCO 5 years ago, and through a lot of grit and ambition, I've been able to cross everything off on my 5-year business plan.  Directing this company, I've seen many organizational shifts; I've had to envision and re-envision what role a professional dance company can, should, and/or is able to have in our beloved town of Fresno.  We've stayed true to our mission: to expand the culture of dance, and we've found a lot of interesting ways to serve the unique needs in our community along the way towards this end. Im proud to report that NOCO consistently pays 18 local performers year round.

Lux: What elements create the culture of NOCO?

Amy: NOCO has a collaborative, soulful, and vibrant spirit. We're grass-roots, locally grown, and we believe in strengthening the quality of our arts community. I received some great advice from a mentor when I started the company "Just keep making great work and everything else will fall in line." That's been one of the best guiding statements to me these past 5 years. NOCO makes great work, from our award-winning cultural events, to our annual sold-out performances in the ROGUE festival, and in our education and outreach to our community. When NOCO throws an event or performance, people are often refreshed in their love of what Fresno can be.  
Lux: Any performances slated soon?

Amy: As I've mentioned before, we are a 3-tiered organization with programs in education, outreach and performance.  

PERFORMANCE: Last year we produced the 1st annual event, Summer Soirée, a collaborative event between NOCO and the Fresno Philharmonic at the Fresno Art Museum; this event won the people's choice award for the "top 20 cultural arts events"  in Fresno for 2014 by the Fresno Bee. We're busy preparing for the 2nd annual Summer Soirée August 15th and 16th. Save the dates! We'll be announcing ticket and program information soon. Images from last year's event.

We've been so delighted to teach over 500 students in our aerial arts training program since 2011, and we're honored to be the only training house in Fresno for aerial arts. Our program offers 8-12 classes a week in beginning to intermediate aerial classes, such as dance, aerial yoga, hammock, hoop, and aerial tissu classes taught by a team of 7 certified aerial instructors. We have some small summer offerings and our fall schedule will begin after Labor Day.

Aerial Ambush Project

Aerial Ambush Project

One of our fun projects we've been working on is our social media #AERIALAMBUSH campaign. We're been bringing arts to the people in fun and creative ways and taking pictures!  We scout out businesses and landmarks, mostly in Fresno and ambush them with arts and performance. We got some great images flying high on top of the The Fresno Ballroom, and we ambushed Anzula, Fresno's luxury yarn emporium, during their work day and brought a news team with us to capture it! We're looking to complete 20 ambush events by the end of the year. You can follow us on our instagram @NOCOdance and check out our album on our Facebook page.

Aerial Ambush Project

Aerial Ambush Project

Lux: What's a day in the life of a NOCO dancer like?

Amy: This is a tricksy question because our days are so varied as well as our roles. We shift gears from project to event, to guest performance, to training so often. Our seasons and training are really subject to the projects we have on our horizon. NOCO hosts 4 flagship events each year: ROGUE festival, Summer workshop, Summer Soirée, and a Fall Collaboration Event.

On the weekend of this year's Summer Soirée August 15 &16th, the performers will spend approximately 20 hours in event duties, rehearsals and performances.  

As the director of NOCO, I spend an average of 30 hours a week in administrative duties.  Our aerial instructors spend 2-10 hours a week teaching aerial to our community. Our dancers train in local studios and college programs throughout the week. We all train 4-10 hours a week taking aerial or dance classes.

The one 'catch-all' in the week when we are all together is our sacred Sunday rehearsal time 4:00-8:00. I've spent almost every single Sunday in the past 5 years in this rehearsal, building a community and creating work.

Meet the sweet spirit of Melissa Wedekind: Her role in NOCO is an aerial performer/ aerialist and a certified aerial yoga instructor.

Lux: How did you get involved in NOCO?

Melissa: I have a friend who is an aerialist up in Portland, and I would always see photos of her training and performances posted on Facebook. I always thought it looked like a lot of fun, so I finally put my nerves aside and talked myself into giving it a try. I was sure I would have to go out of town to find an aerial class, but when I did a Google search, I was pleasantly surprised to find that NOCO offered training in Fresno. I took my first class in December of 2012 and got completely hooked. In June of 2013 I traveled to Boulder, CO to get my aerial teacher certification and began teaching classes for NOCO shortly thereafter. I was invited into the company as a performer in the fall of 2013.  

Lux: How have the classes inspired you, changed you, educated you?

Melissa: There is constant inspiration, not only at our company rehearsals, but also during classes that are open to the public. Within the company, I am honored to work with so many brilliant dancers and creative minds who constantly inspire me with their talent. Our students inspire me with their work ethic and the pure joy they get out of training. Watching them grow and accomplish new things is amazing. Aerial training has changed me in many ways, physically and mentally. When I first began training, I was terrified of heights. Slowly, over time, I've completely conquered that fear. Physically, it gets you in very good shape and will really increase your strength and flexibility. I never in a million years thought my body would be able to do some of the things it can do now. As far as education - I am constantly learning new things. With aerial, the education part really never stops. There are always new things to learn, which is one of the things I love most about aerial training.        

Lux: What has the training been like? How has NOCO given you a sense of community?

Melissa: No matter what type of training you are doing with NOCO, you are guaranteed to have fun and get a great workout. It will definitely challenge you and push you physically and mentally, but in a way that makes you excited and leaves you wanting more. When you accomplish something new or see progress in yourself, it is extremely rewarding. The best thing about training with NOCO is that it is always a fun and supportive atmosphere. We all cheer each other on and get excited for each other's accomplishments.

NOCO has given me a sense of community by BEING my community. From students to performers to fans to supporters - there are so many people who love NOCO. Each time we do a show or event or welcome new students into our classes, that community grows. It's really a special thing to be a part of.
Lux: What should others know that may be interested in giving NOCO a shot?

Melissa: I think a common misconception about aerial is that you need to have a lot of upper body strength or be super flexible to participate. That is totally false! You don't have to be strong to begin taking classes.  Many of our students can't even hold themselves up on the fabric when they first start training. NOCO offers beginning level classes that will ease you in and build your strength over time. With consistent training, you will get stronger and be able to do things you never imagined you could.  

Follow NOCO on Instagram and Facebook.