The OJC dance program has been at OJC for over 35 years. From its inception in 1981 the dance program has expanded dramatically. Originally the program only offered adult ballet and dance exercise classes; however, according to Darlene Blackford, current OJC adjunct faculty and OJC dance program founder, those original classes were so well attended she was encouraged to offer children’s creative dance classes on Saturdays. “So many children registered for those classes, I felt a full-blown dance program could be a reality,” she said.
In the beginning, the program only offered classes that Blackford felt competent to teach. Those classes included creative dance and movement exploration for pre-K children, modern dance, pre-ballet, and ballet for elementary age through adult.
As the program grew and other teachers were included, more classes were added that included tap and jazz, movement exploration, dance for special needs, dance for gymnasts, hip-hop, pre-sports skills for boys, choreography, ballet/pointe classes, and a large variety of exercise/aerobic classes. Blackford explained that students from all over the area attended dance. At one point the OJC Dance Program registered well over 200 dancers.
In an effort to spread dance to as many as possible the OJC Dance Program hosted local dance companies to come to OJC to present concerts. “We were privileged to host the international company Dancing Wheels who empower disabled dancers to dance using their wheel chairs. Upper-level teen dancers also presented their choreographed solo and group dances in Dancers’ Showcase which was performed in the Ed Stafford Theater and at the Rocky Ford Grand Theater each spring,” Blackford stated.
Blackford was frequently asked to choreograph for local productions and spent many hours working with Picketwire productions, La Junta Children’s Theater, Rocky Ford Summer Youth Theater, and Otero Players. Blackford worked with Ed Stafford, director of the OJC theatre program, as the choreographer for a production of Brigadoon and then for several other musicals at OJC.
Stafford and Blackford collaborated on the first production of the Nutcracker in 1994, and on a drama-dance called The Crystal Slipper - a production that Stafford wrote and directed a few years later. In 2004, Blackford directed the Nutcracker which included guest soloists from David Taylor Dance Theatre in Denver.
“We made a tradition of taking dancers from the program to see professional dance companies touring in Pueblo and the Colorado Ballet in Denver as well as encouraging dancers to attend summer dance camps in Colorado and Wyoming,” Blackford said.
Blackford explained that her own teacher-training was a regular endeavor, and that she attended dance camps and teacher-training in Aspen, Telluride, and Vail for several summers. “These workshop/conferences often hosted international dance company directors and teachers. I took lessons from instructors from the Paris Opera School of Dance,” Blackford stated.
At one time, students could take ballet and modern-improvisation classes at Otero Junior College. Aerobic classes that were offered for credit then are still being taught today.
By the 1999-2000 school year, several of Blackford’s former students had grown up in the program and were ready to take on the directorship. “Family and other opportunities were taking me in another direction, so the program was turned over to competent and enthusiastic instructors who have continued to nurture dancers and expand the program,” Blackford said.
Jennifer Jackson is currently serving as OJC Dance Program director. To view current offerings from the OJC Dance program, visit their website at
https://www.ojc.edu/about/campus/dance.aspx. For more information, contact OJC Dance Director, Jennifer Jackson by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at (719) 384-6812.