Former SDSU dancer hosts virtual dance fundraiser to support Black Lives Matter

SDSU+alumni+Rachel+Hanson+%28second+to+left%29+and+Tory+Brown+%28second+to+right%29+pose+with+their+fellow+dance+instructors+during+the+Black+Lives+Matter+Master+Class+fundraiser+on+June+13.

Photo courtesy of Rachel Hanson

SDSU alumni Rachel Hanson (second to left) and Tory Brown (second to right) pose with their fellow dance instructors during the Black Lives Matter Master Class fundraiser on June 13.

by Amber Salas, Staff Writer

In moments of hardship and despair, people tend to turn to things they are most passionate about. For dancers, being able to dance is a way to escape reality and connect with yourself by expressing raw emotions through movement.

The death of George Floyd and racial injustice has fueled a fire of passion worldwide. People took over streets across the United States and beyond to peacefully protest, demanding change for the racial injustices that exist. While many express their emotions through peacefully protesting, Rachel Hanson turned to her passion of dancing.

“I was educating myself and doing all those things that people were saying, but I felt like I still had to do something else,” Hanson said. “I felt like there was more to do, that I could do.”

Hanson is a recent alumna of San Diego State, as well as a former member of the SDSU dance team that won the 2020 UDA College Nationals in the Division 1A Hip-Hop division. This was the dance team’s first ever national title in program history.

Aside from dancing at the collegiate level, Hanson also teaches dance to all ages at a local San Diego dance studio.

“It didn’t click right away. But then I realized, ‘Duh, I teach dance.’ That’s how I can make an impact,” Hanson said.

Hanson, along with her close friend and fellow dance instructor Tory Brown, came up with the idea of hosting a dance class via Zoom, where dancers could come together to express themselves during this time of heavy emotions. 100% of the proceeds would go towards a foundation supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

They named it the Black Lives Matter Master Class fundraiser and charged $20 per dancer.

“She believes in the same things as me and wanted to help, so I knew she would be the right person to do it with,” Hanson said of Brown helping her plan the fundraiser class. “I told her my idea that we can have a class and raise money. From there, we just kind of started working out what we thought we should do.”

Brown is also an alumnus of SDSU and graduated in 2019. Together, through their love and passion for dance, two Aztec alumni found a way to make a difference.

The class took place on Saturday, June 13 with about 50 dancers participating. For an hour and a half, Hanson and Brown taught a dance to dancers of all ages. These dancers came together to express their plea for justice through the emotion they know best — dancing.

Black Lives Matter Master Class fundraiser instructors address Zoom class participants on June 13. (Photo courtesy of Rachel Hanson)

“Everyone kind of came together,” Hanson said. “We all have two things in common: we’re dancers and we wanted to make a change.”

Hanson explained that they reached out to many different dance teams, former teammates, relatives and friends to share their dance fundraiser. With the class taking place on a Saturday afternoon, many people who wanted to participate couldn’t make it due to the business of the weekend. They instead chose to donate to the cause.

With about 50 dancers participating and many family and friends donating money to support the cause, Hanson and Brown were able to raise about $1,216.

“I obviously could not have pulled that much money out of my pocket and just donated it straight to the cause,” Hanson said. “We found a way to make the biggest impact we could. That’s the moment it kind of hit me that we really did pull together as a dance community and make something happen that was a really big change.”

Hanson explained that this class was geared towards their older dance students as the material taught was high level. Older students also have a clear understanding of the recent events as a result of George Floyd’s death.

Hanson was excited to see many of her younger students eager to participate as well. Even though the material was harder than their normal dance classes, these dancers were determined to be a part of the class.

“It’s really cool that they got to experience this at such a young age and hear what we had to say, even if they can’t completely understand all of it,” Hanson said. “They are exposed to the positive change we made, which, I think in the long run, is just as impactful.”

After making a positive impact on her dancers and raising $1,216, Hanson found a way for this donation to be matched to make an even larger influence.

A week before Hanson hosted her class, she discovered a powerful movement through Amazon.

Hanson’s friend from high school, Michael Yitayew, works for Amazon Corporation. Yitayew shared on social media that he was raising money for the Black Lives Matter movement, and that each Amazon corporate employee can donate up to $10,000, which would be matched by Amazon.

Hanson immediately reached out in hopes of teaming up with him to make a large donation altogether.

“I reached out to him and kind of gave him the rundown of what we were doing and what was going to happen,” Hanson said. “We decided that it would be a really smart and great opportunity to team up. Once we got all of our donations in, we sent it over to him.”

Between Hanson’s donation from her dance fundraiser and other donations Yitayew has received, he has raised $11,000 with a little over two weeks left to go in the fundraiser. Amazon will match $10,000 of this and donate it to several different foundations centered around the Black Lives Matter movement.

Yitayew will continue raising money until July 6. Anyone who wishes to contribute can become involved by visiting Yitayew’s Twitter account for more information, or can donate via Venmo @michaelyitayew.

“Obviously, the money we raised was a big number, but because they were even bigger and could double, that was really cool that we could team up with him,” Hanson said.

Teamwork made this dance class fundraiser a reality through Hanson and Brown, and teamwork continued to make an impact through Hanson combining donations with Yitayew.

As a recent college graduate, Hanson plans to continue teaching dance as a studio instructor. She looks forward to returning to the studio and seeing her students in person again after several months of classes being taught via Zoom due to the coronavirus.

She also looks forward to auditioning for NBA dance teams, as well as a professional dance company in New York.

Through the Black Lives Matter Master Class fundraiser, Hanson has made an impact that is bigger than just dance — an influence to fight for what is right and the opportunity to bring about change.

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