A day in the life of dance professor Francisco Martinez: ‘The sweetest man I’ve ever met’

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francisco martinez
Professor Francisco Martinez at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Wednesday, April 13, 2022. Kate Bown/The Occidental.

Professor Francisco Martinez said he has taught ballet, modern dance and choreography at Occidental for over 20 years, working closely with student-led clubs like Dance Production Club and PULSE club. Martinez said his passion for dance was born when his mother would put him on her feet and dance around the living room with him in Monterrey, Mexico.

5 a.m.

Martinez said he wakes up at 5 a.m. every day and immediately begins his morning routine.

“When I get up in the morning, I do my yoga and my physical therapy exercises. Yoga takes me about 45 minutes, and then I do 30 minutes of meditation and then I start my physical therapy,” Martinez said. “I have my coffee and breakfast, and then I get to campus.”

2:35 p.m.

He arrives on campus by 2:35 p.m., an hour early, to set up the dance studio for each class, Martinez said. To do: set up the sound system, dry mop the floor, attend to other necessary equipment and grab some more coffee.

Martinez said he teaches intermediate ballet and modern dance on Mondays and Wednesdays.

“The intermediate level ballet is for students who have had some training,” Martinez said. “We start with exercises at the bar, pliés, stretches of the feet and legs in a chronological order. Then we transition to a traditional Vaganova method style of technique.”

Martinez said after 45 minutes of those exercises, the class comes to the center to do balancing and coordination exercises.

francisco martinez
Professor Francisco Martinez teaches his ballet class in the dance studio at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Wednesday, April 13, 2022. Kate Bown/The Occidental.

6:45 p.m.

Martinez teaches a modern dance class from 6:45 to 8:10 p.m., which he said he teaches differently compared to the ballet class.

Martinez said modern dance instructors must be open to far more serendipity when teaching, something he learned from former teacher Alwin Nikolais. Martinez said the high point of his studies occurred under instructors Nikolais and Murray Louis in New York City — they taught him the essentials of space and energy awareness in modern dance and choreography.

“In space, you have positive, negative, directional, non-directional, peripheral and movement space. Then you have shape, where the movement is within the dancer,” Martinez said. “Then you have the timing and rhythms. Finally, you have different energy volumes of slow, medium and fast.”

Two students who previously took Martinez’s modern dance class, Allison Wilson (junior) and Mary Ferris (sophomore), said Martinez is adored and respected by all his students.

Wilson said she first met Martinez as a first year in his modern dance class and has taken a class from him almost every semester since.

“Professor Martinez is the sweetest man I’ve ever met. He’s my favorite professor at Oxy, and he’s just a really amazing mentor within dance and academically,” Wilson said. “I always feel like I can go to him for support. He’s just a very supportive man, and I am always interested to have his opinion and hear his advice.”

francisco martinez
Professor Francisco Martinez teaches his ballet class in the dance studio at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Wednesday, April 13, 2022. Kate Bown/The Occidental.

Ferris said she first met Martinez when the college was conducting classes online, and she quickly came to admire him for the constant, critical support he gave her in all his classes.

“During our choreography class, we would get an assignment each day and would have to choreograph to the assignment,” Ferris said. “He would produce genius ideas to help me improve my choreography. He would work with me and provide motivation so I could create choreography that was still my own.”

Martinez said his current and former students call him “Professor Martinez Dearest.”

On Tuesday nights, Martinez said he teaches dance classes at the Pasadena Dance Theatre and the Dance Conservatory of Pasadena after teaching at Occidental. He also said he teaches a choreography class at Occidental.

“The choreography class always inspires me because I tell people I studied as a choreographer first,” Martinez said. “What really lifts my spirits is to see young students processing these really hectic theories and making it work for them.”

francisco martinez
Professor Francisco Martinez teaches his ballet class in the dance studio at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Wednesday, April 13, 2022. Kate Bown/The Occidental

“It is important for me, and it puts me in touch with myself and my students in a different way,” Martinez said. “I remember when I first saw my students come here nervous and hesitant, and how they developed a sense of trust, becoming masters of their own ideas.”

Martinez said he returns home to his husband after he reflects on his day. Then, he said, they share stories from their day, eat dinner, watch some TV and go to bed.

“This is what I love to do,” Martinez said. “My mom used to tell me to follow my passions, and my passions are teaching, dancing and choreographing.”