Malashock’s ride to success

By Cassidy Klein

John Malashock, a Mission Hills resident and the founder of Malashock Dance Company, can’t not dance. To him, dance is a necessity, and his life is an expression of that.

“There are people, like I am, who don’t have a choice,” Malashock said. “They just have to do it [dance]. It was something I wanted to do and needed to do.”

John Malashock (center) practices in his studio with the company dancers (Courtesy of John Malashock)

Malashock is a San Diego native who has been in professional dance for 45 years. Out of college, he danced for a professional company in Salt Lake City and went on to do work in Europe and New York for 10 years before he returned to his hometown.

“My body was pretty exhausted at that point, so I stepped back from [dance] for a little bit,” he said. “It wasn’t long before the need to be dancing and creating dances really exerted itself.”

After living in La Jolla and Scripps Ranch, Malashock settled in his current neighborhood of Mission Hills, where he has now lived for 15 years with his wife and son.

“There is no other place in San Diego that I would rather live than Mission Hills,” Malashock said. “We have a great feeling, friendly neighborhood. We live on a canyon, so it feels very private and with a nice sense of nature. We have a wonderful old house with tons of character. We are near everything.”

Malashock founded his company, Malashock Dance, in 1988 after moving back to San Diego. The company moved to its studio in Liberty Station 11 years ago; since then, the studio has developed into a dance school, expanded outreach programs and established a rehearsal space all their own.

“I’m most proud of the body of work that I’ve created over these 30 years,” Malashock said. “The establishment of this facility really gives a nice public face to the dance field. I think the level of artistic collaborations that I’ve developed with almost every major art organization in town has just been really exciting for me too. [I’m proud of] the work, and the community we’ve created.”

(Courtesy of John Malashock)

Malashock Dance runs five outreach programs in schools around the county, mainly in underserved areas of San Diego. These programs — Math in Motion, DanceABILITY and A Reason to Dance — strive to integrate movement and creativity into the curriculum for students of all ages, skill levels and ZIP codes.

“I think the thing most people don’t know about us is how much outreach we do with the community,” Malashock said. “It’s giving [students] access to the arts — to dance — for people who otherwise wouldn’t have that.”

Malashock promotes a collaborative environment in his studio. The soft-spoken choreographer feeds off the creative energy of his team.

“I like working collaboratively and bouncing ideas back and forth,” he said. “I do my best creative work in that mode, just letting the creative sparks fly between us. I will never be one of the solitary artists, like a writer or painter. I draw energy from dancers, from the studio, and working in collaboration with them.”

Justin Viernes, who has been dancing with Malashock Dance since 2011, describes John as a generous and supportive person. According to Viernes, the choreographer is perceptive to the group dynamic, always keeps the environment positive and constantly challenges his dancers.

“John has a way of bringing something out of you as a dancer that you normally wouldn’t think you could do,” Viernes said. “We’re capable of delving into further and deeper to understand a character or concept.

“John is quite the visionary and is very inspiring,” he continued. “I’ve been very fortunate to have been with him for such a long time; I can say that every season brings something new and super challenging for me, both physically and mentally.”

Malashock Dance is known for their annual performances and workshops, participation in arts festivals, and other cultural organizations. They have also won Emmy Awards for their innovative dance films in which they do choreography specifically for the screen.

Dancers from Malashock Dance performing (Courtesy of John Malashock)

Malashock said he is excited about the studio’s 30th anniversary show, “The Ride: Malashock@30,” which will be playing March 17–25 at The Lyceum Theater in Horton Plaza.

“My personal hopes are to keep loving to create work, whether in dance or collaboratively,” he said. “The company has begun to grow without my direct involvement into something that’s bigger than me, and that’s exciting to feel. I want to take work to other places, want to see our school bursting at the seams and see support for our organization grow.”

Malashock’s vision for “The Ride: Malshock@30” was to create a space for the audience to enter into personal, intimate, humorous and emotive character stories. The show will feature “dynamic and exciting music” by Matthew McBane to compliment the personal nature of the mini-stories. With 11 dancers and one pianist, the show will be “energetic, rich and powerful,” according to Malashock.

“For the celebration of our 30th anniversary, I didn’t want to do something retrospective,” he said. “I like new work because what I do is about innovation and moving forward.”

Malashock considers himself an artist of embodiment and movement, and he hopes the public will tap into the expressive art of dance and discover that they, too, are artists.

“Dance and art add tremendous value to the texture of our lives,” Malashock said. “Dance is a unique art form. It’s physical, it’s emotional, expressive, exciting, embodied. Some people don’t go into dance because it’s a language they don’t understand. But there is so much about it that can be accessible and creative for all.”

 —Cassidy Klein is an editorial intern for San Diego Uptown News’ parent company San Diego Community News Network. Reach her at

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