Jeremy Zapanta’s journey from self-proclaimed jock to dancer began in a Burbank ballet school when he was 13. While watching his younger sister perform a routine, he nudged his mother and said, “I think I can do that.”

To his surprise, he wasn’t as naturally gifted in dance as he was in baseball and soccer.

“I took my first ballet class and hated it,” he recalls. “I was so sore afterwards. I didn’t know a plié from a tendu.”

Dance became a hobby, then a passion and finally a career goal for Zapanta. He auditioned for professional ballet companies after graduating from high school and performed in regional productions of The Nutcracker.

In 2009, Zapanta enrolled in UC Irvine’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts to pursue a bachelor of fine arts in dance performance. He is a recipient of the William J. Gillespie Foundation Scholarship, which is awarded to outstanding dance majors.

“I want to have a long and lasting career in dance, and to do that I need to become more versatile,” he says. “At UCI I’ve been exposed to modern, jazz, contemporary ballet and worked with amazing dance professors.”

Zapanta moved closer to his goal this summer when he took part in two, weeklong dance workshops offered by prestigious contemporary dance companies Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Alonzo King LINES Ballet of San Francisco at CTSA.

Along with other UCI dance students, alumni and community members, Zapanta trained for six hours a day, five days a week in ballet and modern technique, repertory and improvisation, among other dance genres. The partnership gave students the unique opportunity to practice their craft under the guidance of artistic directors and professional dancers from each company.

About 90 students ages 13 to 28 participated in the dance intensive program, UCI dance majors made up nearly half of participants.

Zapanta calls Hubbard Street Dance Chicago his dream company. He plans to audition for a spot in the prestigious organization after graduation.

“Dance is more popular and competitive than ever thanks in part to TV shows like, “So You Think You Can Dance,” he says. “I feel so fortunate to be here and to work with and observe such talented dancers.”

The workshops were organized by Jodie Gates, associate professor of dance.

“This type of collaboration doesn’t happen much in the dance world,” says Gates, a veteran of the Joffrey Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet and William Forsythe Dance Company.  “It’s an extraordinary opportunity for students to be exposed to these dancers and two very strong philosophies of contemporary dance.”

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s approach to dance is “grounded and earthy,” Gates says, while Alonzo LINES emphasizes “ethereal” movement.

Gates is a strong advocate of dance, both locally and internationally. She worked with the Prague State Opera Ballet this summer to stage the work of William Forsythe, and has performed and taught in South America, Mexico, Russia, Asia, Australia and Europe. She balances teaching and mentoring at UCI with directing duties at the Laguna Beach Dance Festival, an influential center for dance and the arts that she founded in 2005.

Dance residencies and collaboration, such as the one that took place this summer, are part of Gates’ larger goal of raising awareness of the arts school’s dance department.

“We’re confident that this is just the beginning of regular artist-in-residence programs from the dance department,” Gates says.

Professional dancers from both companies collaborated on a new work in progress by Alonzo King and will stage an informal showing at the Claire Trevor Theatre on Sept. 14 and 15. Tickets are availableonline.