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Vaca Choreographs Dancers During Pro Bowl Halftime Show

Published: February 16, 2009

It was all about halftime at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii on Feb. 8 for Andrew Vaca, an associate dance professor at CSULB.

For more than 10 years, Vaca’s prowess for choreography has been on display as the NFL’s top cheerleaders have performed polished dance routines he collaborated on during the Pro Bowl, the post-season matchup between football’s top athletes. This year, however, he worked and watched offstage with even more pride as several CSULB dance students also performed during halftime.

Vaca was in charge of 34 dancers during the show, including three CSULB students and three alumni who were originally hired to help develop the Pro Bowl cheerleader training DVD. Dance majors Wesley Faucher, Meghan Klemz and Brittany Ullestad, along with alumni dancers Julianne Wessely, Nicole Niestemski, and Courtney Meadows, were hired through e2k, a dance production company Vaca has been freelancing with for years.

“It’s extremely exciting for me to be here (in Hawaii) choreographing while CSULB students are here performing,” said Vaca during his trip. “They have proven to be such amazing representatives of the university and our department by working professionally and by being great examples to the other performers. They are also some of the most talented dancers in the halftime show.”

Like the football players who during the season must earn a seat on a Pro Bowl bench, the cheerleaders are also nominated from each of the league’s teams each year for being among the best on their squads.

Each November, Vaca is part of a group that gathers, often at CSULB, to choreograph eight dances and four short “filler” routines that the cheerleaders must rehearse and learn before they arrive in Hawaii. That was the extent of Vaca’s involvement with the Pro Bowl until this year, which is the first time he has traveled to Hawaii to help prepare for the game.

Besides the dance routines, the Pro Bowl halftime show this year consisted of performances by Enrique Iglesias, who will sing his hit “Be With You,” as well as “Takin’ Back My Love,” a duet he sang with Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Ciara.

According to Vaca, the singers chosen to perform at halftime heavily influence the dance routines. This year their songs have enabled him to develop some “very traditional jazz dance work with professional dance team flair,” and incorporate into the routines a lot of modern dance and lyrical jazz movement.

“They [the singers] often want to do something new so that it becomes better known, while the NFL and e2k often want the performers to sing something already mainstream. It’s basically a give and take between the three before the pieces are chosen,” added Vaca during his stay. “I’m very excited about these songs because ‘Be With You’ is a beautiful piece. The other song is quite fun and was very inspirational to work with. I love the fact that it’s a duet with Ciara, an artist whose work I’ve always enjoyed. I find the song to be extremely danceable. I just finished the base choreography for the show Thursday night and the dancers looked amazing doing it.”

Spirit Final
Photo courtesy of Andrew Vaca
Andrew Vaca

A native of Sacramento, Vaca began dancing with Dale Scholl in the Jazz-ee Dance Company, and later in Jazzworks and Dale Scholl Dance/Art. Since leaving Sacramento, he has danced with the UCLA Dance Company, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, Keith Johnson/Dancers, Bodytalk, and Roman Dance Theatre.

Prior to teaching at CSULB for the past 10 years, Vaca taught dance at UCLA; Scripps College; California State University, Sacramento; and the Orange County High School of the Arts. He holds a bachelor’s of arts degree in communication studies from CSU Sacramento and a master’s of fine arts degree in dance from UCLA.

At CSULB, Vaca is known as the “jazz dance specialist,” as he regularly teaches jazz technique classes. Other courses he instructs include creative dance for children, improvisation, composition, and all levels of modern dance technique. He has also been the director of the department’s annual Dance Showcase, an evening of dance performed by the non-major students of the department.

Besides this year’s Pro Bowl, Vaca first worked with Iglesias and his music in 2001 to choreograph the Thanksgiving Day United Way Halftime Show for the Detroit Lions, and again at the same event in 2007 with the Goo Goo Dolls.

Professional sports cheerleader teams Vaca has worked with include the San Francisco 49ers Gold Rush, the San Diego Charger Girls, the Los Angeles Laker Girls, the Los Angeles Clipper Spirit, the Boston Celtic Dancers, the Sacramento Kings Dancers, the Indiana Pacemates and the Portland Trailblazer Dancers. He has also worked as assistant choreographer on two episodes of Molly Shannon’s sitcom, “Cracking Up!”

“I truly love working on these [halftime] productions. It’s amazing to see how such diverse groups, such as hula dancers, jazz dancers, cheerleaders, bungee artists, flame jugglers and singers can all come together to entertain a crowd of millions,” said Vaca. “It enables me to combine experiences and knowledge I have gained from my own work and from my diverse training that I’ve had for the past 25 years. It’s not very often that a cheerleader turned jazz dancer turned modern dancer turned professor finds himself in Hawaii working for the NFL. But I’m excited that it’s me.”