Posted by West Side Spirit on March 23, 2011 ·
By Channon Hodge
Eleven pre-teen girls in Ballet Hispanico’s Spanish dance class stand at attention at one edge of the room, heels up, ruffled skirts pulled at the hip and chins pushed forward. While some faces betray intense concentration, others are ready to go ahead and charge.
“I want bullfighter girls,” cheered their teacher, Sandra Rivera, before starting their Paso Doble music. “Let me see a beautiful position… Enjoy yourselves!”
Rivera may be teaching now, but she was there as a teenage member when Tina Ramirez founded Ballet Hispanico in 1970 to foster and showcase Latino artistry. Rivera remembers the fascination on faces when they first danced their way through prisons, theaters and the city streets.
Ballet Hispanico will celebrate the completion of its 40th season in April.
The organization has since became an international success, and April will mark the end of their 40th season, now led by artistic director Eduardo Vilaro. Though still rooted in education and outreach, the professional company is extending its creative arms to embrace more diversity in Latino culture.
“I think we’re at a point now where we have a groove,” said Vilaro, as he explained his desire to contemporize the company. “I think it’s about understanding that culture is ever evolving and not static.”
The company danced works this season that explored the mix of ethnicities within Latino culture. They included the Moorish “Nací,” the “Chifa” or Asian “Puntos Suspensivos” and the Brazillian “Batucada Fantástica.” Highlights for next season will include a new play on tango, a reflection on music by Celia Cruz and choreography from renowned artist Ron K. Brown, who explores West African and Caribbean movement.
“I’m interested in opening a dialogue with our audiences about the intersection of the African Diaspora with the Latino Diaspora, which is huge,” said Vilaro.
The company’s interplay with the public came from Tina Ramirez’s founding vision, and continues with its vast outreach. Company dancers and teachers spread Hispanic culture to schools around the city and throughout the world. Some classes teach Spanish language and others involve parents. Vilaro hopes to start a program next year that will encourage high school kids to choreograph. It’s part of his vision to keep the company current and involved in all the ways the community shapes and reshapes lines of culture.
Vilaro said the company is about building future leaders, but has always been rooted in education. Due to the popularity of its classes and performances, Ballet Hispanico outgrew its original carriage house location and expanded five years ago to the building behind it, on West 89th Street. They added modern, bright studios, and the school streams with kids, parents and rehearsals six days a week.
Angelina C. Paulino, 15, started dancing at Ballet Hispanico as a 7-year-old. Though she’d begged her mother to be put in gymnastics, her mother brought her to Ballet Hispanico partially to get in touch with her Dominican heritage. Paulino was soon entranced, and said she was drawn in most by the stomping, clapping and twirling of Flamenco.
“In Flamenco you have to be poised and have that fierce attitude,” said Paulino. “It gives me that attitude I need and the confidence… you should see my face in class.”
Paulino is one of roughly 70 students in the pre-professional group who hope to go on to careers in dance. Though many students have Latino heritage, many do not. Paulino said learning a variety of dances along with traditional ballet will help her and other classmates stand out when they apply for jobs in the future.
Over 250 children take non-professional classes, and the largest group at Ballet Hispanico is made up of the tiniest of dancers. Around 400 children aged 1 to 6 years old skip, hop and somewhat chassé through lessons that encourage partnership and individual expression.
Young men in the Boys Workshop benefit from a 50-percent reduction in tuition thanks to The Ted Snowdon Foundation. Workshop teacher Kevin J. Guy, 31, started teaching recently at Ballet Hispanico, and said he loves it there and always leaves feeling energized from working with his kids.
He aims first to teach his young men to have fun. While doing that, he instills the confidence and focus they’ll use forever, whether they become professional dancers or not.
“Dance teaches you to work,” said Guy. “It helps you to be disciplined about life but still be yourself.”
Ballet Hispanico will be giving free performances at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center, 199 Chambers St., March 29–April 1. For more information on the company’s programs, visit ballethispanico.org or call 212-362-6710.