It's National Hispanic Heritage Month, a period observed from September 15 to October 15 that recognizes the contributions of Latinx and Hispanic communities to American culture. The dance world has been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of those contributions, with Latinx dance artists leaving legacies that have helped move it to a more inclusive place.
At Dance Spirit, we're celebrating the month by highlighting four Latinx dancers whose groundbreaking work is opening doors for the next generation.
Abdiel Figueroa Reyes (Todd Rosenberg, courtesy Reyes)
Abdiel Figueroa Reyes<p>The concert contemporary world—where companies, including Nederlands Dans Theater, the Hofesh Shechter Company and the Batsheva Dance Company, create out-of-the-box works that make bold, artistic statements—can sometimes be intimidating to aspiring professional dancers. But this wasn't the case for <a href="https://www.instagram.com/abdiel522fr" target="_blank">Abdiel Figueroa Reyes</a>, who'd been preparing for a career in this exclusive world most of his life. That hard work paid off and landed him a job with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in 2019.</p><p>Reyes' contract with the company came after years of training at the Rock Center for Dance and Contemporary West Dance Theater, both in Las Vegas, NV, and after joining the inaugural program of Hubbard Street's Professional Program and apprenticing with the company, where he is the only Latinx dancer. "It can feel very isolating to be the only Latinx dancer in the room, but I have been fortunate enough to work in an environment where it has never been a dominating factor, and where my true self is authentically supported," the 22-year-old says. "It was not until the past couple of years that I realized the weight that my brown body carries, inside and outside of the studio."</p><p>His body also carries this capacity to move in creative, near-alien ways. He is captivating, the way his improvisation vocabulary can move from sultry to rigid to utterly vulnerable. He attributes his movement aesthetic, in part, to his Puerto Rican heritage, which he says gives him "incentive and a more innate reason to keep pushing for more out of my career while proudly being Boricua."</p>
Carlos Gonzalez (Benjamin Majors, courtesy Gonzalez)
Carlos Gonzalez<p><a href="https://www.instagram.com/cargo5" target="_blank">Carlos Gonzalez</a> is a dancer with American Ballet Theatre, whose gorgeous feet, dreamy extensions and effortless ballon make him a standout in the company.</p><p>Gonzalez also happens to be one of only a few Latinx dancers in the company. "It's difficult," he says. "But I think the best way to handle the pressure is by trying to do your best every day, bringing your own personality into your work, and believing in yourself and the artist that you want to become."</p><p>Born in Madrid, Spain, Gonzalez trained at El Conservatorio Profesional de Danza Fortea and El Real Conservatorio Profesional de Danza Mariemma before joining the ABT Studio Company in 2015. He was quickly noticed, gaining an apprenticeship with the main company in 2016 and joining the corps de ballet in 2017. He says he's grateful for the opportunity to represent the Latinx community at ABT, which is largely underrepresented in the Western ballet world. "There aren't that many of us in the company, which makes my experiences very special—but hard at times," he says.</p><p>The challenging moments in his career haven't stopped him, though. He says he loves connecting with audiences too much to let anything get in the way of his success. "I probably feel the proudest as an artist when I receive messages of gratitude for doing what I do, for transporting the people that come to see me or ABT to a parallel world where, for a while, all the problems of the real world disappear," Gonzalez says. </p>
Monica Douglas performing with singer Becky G (Vivian Phann, courtesy Douglas)
Monica Douglas<p><a href="https://www.instagram.com/monicagiavanna" target="_blank">Monica Douglas</a> grew up dancing as a classic comp kid, winning regional and national titles at some of the biggest events in the circuit. After attending Penn State University, Douglas moved to L.A., and almost immediately began booking jobs with major artists.</p><p>Among her favorite memories is performing at the 2014 Essence Festival in New Orleans, LA, with rock/pop legend Prince. "It was definitely one of my first big milestones within my first year of living in Los Angeles that told me 'You can do this!' " Douglas says. "To me, it meant that no matter what I look like—my skin color, height, weight, anything—I could be successful in this industry."</p><p>That drive and determination have served her well. She's since worked with tons more iconic musicians, including some of the top Latinx artists in the world, like Daddy Yankee, Jennifer Lopez, Bad Bunny, Pitbull, J Balvin, Becky G and Camila Cabello.</p><p>"Working with these artists is empowering as a Latina dancer because we really get to celebrate our culture to the fullest extent," Douglas says, who identifies as part Panamanian. "There's nothing like performing to Latin music in front of thousands of screaming fans."</p>
Jon Rua (Susan Stripling, courtesy Rua)
Jon Rua<p>If you've ever seen Lin-Manuel Miranda's <em>Hamilton</em>, then you know <a href="https://www.instagram.com/jonrua1" target="_blank">Jon Rua</a>'s work. He's been collaborating with Miranda since the Off-Broadway rendition and his Broadway debut in Miranda's first Tony Award–winning musical, <em>In the Heights</em>, at the Richard Rogers Theatre. Later, Rua would become a member of the original Broadway cast of the founding-fathers musical we've all come to love, contributing his own voice and choreography to the show.</p><p>As a member of both casts, Rua has had a unique opportunity to work with a diverse group of theater artists, which is something he says he appreciates. "It was a wonderful way to build some semblance of family in this country," he says. And while that diversity isn't represented in all corners of the musical theater world, Rua believes that can change "once America, the entertainment industry and the musical theater industry recognize Latinx stories are just as American as any other American story."</p><p>His story began in New Jersey, as the son of two Colombian-born parents. He didn't grow up building the "traditional" Western dance foundation, but instead used what made him unique—in particular, his connection to his Colombian heritage—to power forward, and he encourages young Latinx dancers to do the same: "Embrace the passion and the rawness of your love and your journey," Rua says. "Do not succumb to the expectations the entertainment world sets for Latinx dancers. You are American. When you see so few faces that represent you, it is upon you then to represent yourself and Latinx artists, and take a stand for what the future can be."</p>
Dining hall cheese burgers, dorm room snacking, and late-night pizza: Finding food that's good for you can be even harder than finding your classes on the first day of freshman year.
And for college dancers, the importance of nutrition is even greater. Food is our fuel for dancing, and we need lots of it. To help you fuel up—the right way—Dance Spirit spoke with one professor and one dance student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, about how to manage healthy eating in college.
Hack the Dining Hall<p>The average college dining hall offers a veritable cornucopia of junk food. "It's really easy to go into the dining hall and just eat whatever you're craving," says UNLV dance student Alexis Hansbrough. "But after a while, you realize that fries and stuff like that aren't doing you any good."</p><p>To stay healthy and energized for your college dance classes, dig a little deeper in the dining hall. "It's about figuring out that there are better options," says Hansbrough. Many college dining halls post menus, and sometimes even include nutrition information or a list of the healthiest options available.</p><p>If your school allows it, bring Tupperware, and take some food to go. This is helpful for dancers with busy schedules, in particular—pack up some grilled chicken, a bowl of salad, or a few pieces of fresh fruit so that later in the week, you can eat quickly in between rehearsals without having to stop at the dining hall again.</p>
Hansbrough shows off one of her favorite meals to make in her college apartment: vegan pad Thai with tofu and sprouts. (Courtesy Hansbrough)
Stock Your Dorm Room<p>Even if you're a master at hacking the dining hall, you're likely going to want to supplement your meal plan. After all, eating the same few meals day in and day out can get a little boring. "On campus, your options are pretty limited. You might need to reach outside of the boundaries of campus," says UNLV dance professor Dolly Kelepecz.</p><p>If you have access to an off-campus grocery store, make a trip every couple of weeks, and be smart about what you're buying. Look for dorm-friendly foods that won't go bad easily, like nut butters, frozen fruits and vegetables, and microwavable brown rice. Foods you can eat on the go, like protein bars, are also great for snacking between classes—but be sure to read the labels. "If you can't understand the words in the ingredients, then you shouldn't be eating it," says Kelepecz.</p>
Buy Before You Go (Or Once You Get There!)<p>If you're planning to head to college sometime soon (or if you're looking for new ways to spice up your dining options), consider buying a few appliances for your dorm room. Something as simple as a mini blender can be a huge help. "Having a mini Bullet blender is really beneficial, because then you can make your own smoothies in your room." says Hansbrough. "It saves time, and you won't have to go off campus and spend extra money."</p><p>Check ahead to see if your dorm room comes equipped with a mini fridge. If not, check with your roommate to see if they'd be OK with getting one—and interested in splitting the cost. Being able to store fresh and frozen foods in your room can be a huge advantage. Reusable utensils, Tupperware, and baking sheets are other good dorm room investments. If you make it easy for yourself to eat healthily, there's a much better chance you will!</p>
You may know what it means to earn a silver, gold, or platinum award for your performance—but probably not an A, B, or C grade. Often, dancers don't encounter the idea of grading in dance until they enter collegiate dance programs. When you're evaluating an inherently subjective art form, what distinguishes an A student from a B student?
The answer: It's complicated. "There's a lot that goes into creating a well-rounded, successful student, which hopefully produces a well-rounded, successful professional," says Angelina Sansone, a ballet instructor at University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
In college programs, set movement phrases, repertory selections, or audition-style classes often serve as graded midterms or final exams. Written components such as self-assessments, audition research projects, and dance history tests might count as well. But the largest contributing factor to your grade is usually how you approach the work, day in and day out.
Dance Spirit talked to faculty across the country to discover what it takes to be a top student—and why dance grades matter.
What makes an A student?<p>A common misconception when it comes to grading in dance is that dancers with natural facility are automatically at an advantage. But banana feet, easy exten-sion, or a slender physique won't earn you straight A's.</p><p>"You don't have to be the most naturally gifted dancer to get the highest grades," says Michelle Loucadoux-Fraser, Hussian College, Los Angeles' associate dean of undergraduate studies and dance instructor. Butler University dance professor Susan McGuire agrees. "We don't grade facility," she says. "It's what you do with the facility you're given that makes the difference." An A student shows up prepared for class, and stays present and engaged throughout its entirety. An A student is professional and approaches any and all work with the same level of vigor. An A student thinks critically, behaves positively, and performs reliably, striving for growth each day as an artist and as a technician.</p><p>University of Arizona's dance professor Tamara Dyke-Compton says grading has everything to do with effort, dedication, progress, and discipline. "Those are the things that, for me, changed when I earned my A's at Juilliard," Dyke-Compton admits. "It wasn't how much better my feet were. It was about what was deep in my soul."</p>
University of Arizona's Tamara Dyke-Compton (front) teaching class (Ed Flores, courtesy University of Arizona)
What's the point?<p>Why bother grading dance, besides the fact that many colleges require letter grades? Grades are a benchmark, a way of assessing your progress. When grades are inflated, dancers get the wrong idea of where they are in their training. "It gives the student the false impression that they don't have a lot more to do," McGuire explains.</p><p>Don't be surprised if your highest grades come in your later years at school. Dance faculty determine grading criteria based on what will best prepare dancers for a professional career. As you meet those expectations, your grades will rise, and you'll be better prepared to enter the real world—a process designed to progress each semester. "In the first year, I tend to give very few A's," McGuire says. "For me a B is good; an A is excellent. You're doing good work. It's just going to take a while. We have to up the ante." </p><p>Loucadoux-Fraser says there's no point to being in college if you're getting all A's all the time, anyway. "Along with that not-perfect grade comes an impetus to improve," Loucadoux-Fraser says. "I don't think the right thing for students to do is to fixate on grades. I think the right thing to do is to focus on improving, and then the grades will come."<span></span></p>
University of North Carolina School of the Arts students in class (Pete S. Mueller, courtesy UNCSA)