Rancho Santa Fe’s Diegueno Country School readies for winter show


By Karen Billing

Staff Writer

Diegueno Country School students in Rancho Santa Fe are whipping up a winter concert for the ages, a performance that will feature everything from the steps of Fred Astaire to the jamming of MC Hammer.

“Everybody Dance Now: A Historical Celebration of Dance in America” will be performed by the entire school on Friday, Dec. 17, at 1 p.m. on the school’s outdoor stage.

A student playing Astaire will sing “I Won’t Dance” backed by students tap dancing cheek-to-cheek in tuxedos. Other students will perform the Monster Mash, do the twist and stroll at a ’50s-style beach party, and youngsters will dance in flippers holding frog umbrellas to the funky dance remix of “We No Speak Americano.”

The show will be dedicated to Diegueno student Megan Swartz, an excellent dancer who will be unable to perform due to a shoulder injury.

Students have been rehearsing for the show since October with the school’s director of performing arts Bonnie Johnston, teachers Todd Hunsaker and Lori Lum, and music director Penny Hawkins.

Johnston comes to Diegueno from a professional career at The Old Globe, where she worked as a choreographer and director for 32 years. She was also the artistic director of a magnet school in Chula Vista for 14 years, where arts were heavily integrated into the curriculum.

For the last five years at Diegueno, she’s tried to bring that same level of integration.

“The focus of a lot of the work that we do is historically based,” Johnston said.

She wants her students to have a sense of what came before them, a cultural awareness of the art culture so when she says names like Astaire, Laurence Olivier and Jackson Pollock, they will understand the reference and the importance of those artists’ work.

The winter show is one of two the students perform each year. The spring show, thanks to a partnership with the North Coast Repertory Theatre, is performed on the company’s stage in Solana Beach.

While the spring show is more of a theater show that only a select number of students perform in, the winter show involves the entire school, each class getting a chance to shine.

Additionally, Dec. 17’s performance will mark the debut of the Diegueno Dance Company. Student dance enthusiasts auditioned for the group and the company will perform several specific pieces, all highlighting a different choreography style. Students will showcase the styles of Michael Jackson, Alvin Ailey and an African piece.

While the bulk of Johnston’s career has been working with adults, she gets a big thrill out of working with the kids.

“Their excitement and the look on their face when they finally get it…there’s nothing like that,” Johnston said. “I’m a huge advocate of the arts in school because a lot of kids can fall through the cracks if they feel they’re not good at anything. Arts can be such a vital part of a child’s education and development.”

For more information on Diegueno Country School, visit