Mayfield Senior School

500 Bellefontaine Street Pasadena, CA 91005

P: (626) 799-9121

F: (626) 799-8576

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Conservatory for the Arts


The Dance Conservatory is designed for the serious dancer who is interested in choreography, performance, and increasing her skills in technique. Students are expected to choreograph and perform in the annual dance concert and various dance presentations throughout the year. Guest artists and well-known choreographers give master classes in preparation for performance.

Dance Concert Photos
"Untitled One Five" - Spring Dance Concert 2015
Dance Concert Videos

Intermediate Level

This course is for the incoming Conservatory student who has passed the audition. It will focus on advancing the student’s level of technique, skill and knowledge of dance. The curriculum includes ballet, modern, classical jazz and performance skills. An individual conditioning program is implemented to address differences in strength, flexibility, muscular endurance, coordination and agility. Members of this class will have the opportunity to perform with the Advanced Conservatory in the annual Spring Dance Concert, Student Choreographers’ Ball and outreach performances. Students also have opportunities for workshops with special guest artists throughout the semester. A full-year commitment is recommended in order to dance in the annual Spring Dance Concert. Typically, the class is comprised of sophomore to senior students.


Advanced Level

This course is for the advanced student who has passed the audition for placement. Students will focus and train in contemporary and classical dance. The curriculum will include ballet, pointe, modern, classical jazz, choreography, world dance, performance skills, critical theory and thinking. An individual conditioning program is implemented to address differences in strength, flexibility, muscular endurance, coordination and agility. The curriculum includes the preparation of a dance video for college submission. Students will also have the opportunity to choreograph and produce their own dance, with the guidance of the instructor. Advanced Conservatory will perform in the annual Spring Dance Concert and other possible venues. Typically, this class is comprised of junior and senior students.

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Dance Department
Denise Darnell
(626) 799-9121 ext. 289
California Institute of the Arts - B.F.A.
Denise Darnell has always found solace in the dance studio. She began dancing when she was eight years old and has been a professional dancer since she was 16. After an early career of dance and lighting design, she was accepted into a Masters of Dance program at New York University. She was ready to move to New York City when a friend, an alumna of Mayfield Senior School, asked “Why don’t you try teaching before you go?” A job had opened at Mayfield and Denise applied and interviewed without thinking she could be hired. When she was offered the job, she explained she would only take the job for one year, and Mayfield agreed to that. 

That was fourteen years ago.

Denise now serves as the Director of Mayfield Senior School’s Conservatory for the Arts. She still teaches dance, as well as production design and lighting. “I didn’t take to teaching right away,” Denise says “It took me a while. Cornelia Connelly, Nancy Wall [Mayfield Senior School visual arts teacher] and Sister Barbara Mullen SHCJ [Mayfield Senior School Director of Formation to Mission and religious studies teacher] were my inspiration. They taught me everything I know about true education and leadership. Teaching and leading with the heart in mind.”

To Cornelia Connelly, art was not an expendable part of a child’s education. It was not the first thing to be let go of when budgets needed to be trimmed. She said, “Art is a universal language, and also a discipline which calls for close attention, leading to wonderment and contemplation.” At Mayfield Senior School, this tradition is kept alive through the Conservatory for the Arts, and under the creative and dedicated direction of Denise Darnell. The Conservatory has been offering students rigorous and engaging arts classes for the last 20 years. Today there are eight conservatories, including instrumental music, dance, theatre, photography, visual arts, creative writing, vocal music and production design and technology, with 130 students – nearly half the student body – enrolled. 

Though the Conservatory takes place after regular school hours, it is a part of the school curriculum and UC accredited, so students are graded and receive credits for committing to the classes. Students are also able to showcase their artwork throughout the year at performances, recitals, readings and displays around school. All of the teachers in the Conservatory are working artists – Denise has a company beyond her work at Mayfield Senior School, Darnell Dance Works – and are committed to the students’ personal creative journeys. The goal of the Conservatory is to help each student discover and engage with her own artistic vision and identity.

Denise’s commitment to arts education reverberates throughout the campus and far into student’s lives after graduation. “Denise teaches her students to look within themselves and perform and create with their hearts because that's what she does,” says Katie Clifford, ’02. “When you watch Denise dance or choreograph you can see her spirit alive in the movements; she digs deep and tells amazing stories through her work. ... What I think is so special about Denise is not only the love in her heart but her ability to make young women realize that they too have a story to tell and for that I will be forever grateful.” Current student, Elizabeth Sanders ’13 says, “Learning from Ms. Darnell has taught me not to hold back in my own choreography, but instead has given me a strong sense of empowerment that I can really make it mean something.” 

Denise believes that the most important part of her classes is not making the students the best dancers or artists in the world. It’s about reaching the heart of the student and her artistic self and getting her in tune with the process. “If you only aim for the outcome, you miss the context. If you lose the context the outcome is never as good,” Denise says. The students are able to find themselves through their Conservatory classes and this self awareness and the confidence that comes from knowing oneself is reciprocated throughout academics and other school activities. 

Tears begin to form in Denise’s eyes as she describes her process and belief in arts education. “I have learned so much from my mentors about how to reach the heart of students. It all goes back to the Mission and the vision of Cornelia Connelly. On my hardest days, that is what keeps me going.”

October 2012

Frit Fuller
(626) 799-9121 ext. 288
California Institute of the Arts - M.F.A.