San Diego Dance Theater artistic director Jean Isaacs is hanging up her dance shoes on Jan. 31.
She was honored for her 24 years of distinguished service with San Diego Dance Theater on Jan. 8 at Liberty Station’s inaugural First Friday event. First Friday’s feature an art walk introducing guests to museums and galleries as they explore Liberty Station’s growing Arts District.
The Jan. 8 tribute to Isaacs’ legacy included feature clips and excerpts from her time with the company celebrating her prolific artistry and the training she has provided to San Diego Dance Theater and the San Diego dance community.
Of the timing of her retirement, Isaacs said, “I’ve done professional dancing for 47 years. Right now, I just need to take a breather.”
Noting “people know me mostly as the founder of San Diego Trolley Dances, which I trademarked,” Isaacs pointed out “those trolley dances now exist elsewhere including San Francisco.”
In partnership with San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, SDDT has presented Trolley Dances for over 20 years. Created by Isaacs to make dance accessible “to the people,” trolley dances are conducted twice each fall. Tour guides lead70 to 100 audience members on and off the trolley at three or four stations. More than 50 dancers typically perform newly commissioned works addressing social justice issues like immigration, homelessness, and climate change.
Isaacs and her ex-husband, a psychiatrist, moved from Boston to San Francisco where she studied dance. The couple came to San Diego in 1971 where Isaacs’ husband completed his residency and Isaacs began working with SDTT founder George Willis. She taught technique, choreography, and improvisation at the UC San Diego, Department of Theatre and Dance for 25 years.
Of her achievements, Isaacs said: “Mostly, I’m a dance maker. What I do is create work for the theater movement. Playwrights would write dances into their plays, and I would do the dance sequences. They’d write a play, I’d put in the moves. That was a big part of my career.”
Isaacs is a critically acclaimed, award-winning choreographer whose work has been presented in Switzerland, Germany, China, Mexico, Guatemala, Canada, and Poland, as well as on both U.S. coasts.
Isaacs is also the co-founder of the San Diego Dance Alliance, Three's Company and Dancers, and Isaacs/McCaleb & Dancers. Her work has been commissioned by the San Diego Opera, the La Jolla Playhouse, The Old Globe Theater, Goodman Theater, The San Diego Repertory Theater, the Berkeley Repertory Theater, Long Wharf Theater, and for the "New Wave" Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
On advice she’d give to aspiring dancers, Isaacs said: “Don’t let people tell you you shouldn’t do it. Have fun with it.”
Concerning the prospects for earning a living in dance, Isaacs said: “It’s hard work. You have to really love it. I say, ‘Go for it.’”
San Diego Dance Theater was founded in 1972 by George Willis, professor emeritus of Dance at San Diego State University. His goal was to bring joy, comedy, and theatricality to modern dance and to train young dancers.
Jean Isaacs was appointed San Diego Dance Theater’s artistic director in 1997. Under her direction, SDDT earned its reputation as a company of professional dancers committed to unconventional and deeply courageous programming.
George and Jean expanded access to the stage for dancers of many nationalities, races, ages, and physical abilities. San Diego Dance Theater is also known for cross-border projects and summer dance workshops, as well as the yearly site-specific performance Trolley Dances.
Isaacs’ company is in residence at Dance Place San Diego at the NTC Promenade. She has directed the San Diego Dance Theater School there while creating dances for her beautiful company, which has included some of the region's most accomplished dancers.