School Spotlight Q&A: Kiri Avelar, Associate School Director

Every new year always brings exciting changes to Ballet Hispanico, and this year is no different. Members of our School of Dance community may have noticed a familiar face in a new role around the studios lately. Flamenco Program Advisor Kiri Avelar recently joined the School of Dance’s administrative team as the new Associate School Director.

We’re thrilled to have Kiri in this new position and caught up with her to learn more about herself, to see how the transition has been, and to hear what plans she has for the new school year:

Kiri Avelar Headshot 2014

Kiri Avelar (c) Rebecca Wilson

Many people might just know you as one of our flamenco instructors, but you have quite a varied background in dance, both in styles and geographic locations. Could you share with us just a summary of your journey with dance, and how you came to find Ballet Hispanico?

I started my training in ballet. The older I got the more varied our curriculum became. Studying at the Boston Ballet School at age 14, I was introduced to Spanish dance in a class taught by Ramon de los Reyes. I didn’t care much for other styles at that age, and I was so focused on ballet that was all I cared about. I later received my B.A. in Dance in New Mexico. Flamenco and Spanish dance are huge there, and because of my ballet and Spanish dance base I easily assimilated into that community; I had an immediate in-road. I eventually fell in love with the art form of Flamenco, but never let go of my respect for ballet and modern dance. Looking back I can see how all of the pieces of my life’s puzzle fit together, now bringing me to Ballet Hispanico in New York.

Give us a sample of what your daily tasks look like now as an administrator for the School:

You can find me either in the classroom teaching, observing other faculty members teach, walking through the building to make sure kids get to class on time, or greeting families. The hours I spend behind the desk are dedicated to processing scholarships, working closely with School leadership and our advisors, and checking in with our marketing team.

What is it like to balance being both an administrator and a faculty member and advisor in the School?


Kiri in the studios (c) Paula Lobo

I love my job. I am so at home in the studio, and yet there is a side of me that is fascinated by the arts administration that it takes to support that work – I get to work in the best of both worlds! I am able to see both sides of the coin, and I feel my work in one area informs my work in the other.

What’s one goal you have for the School of Dance this year?

To provide enrichment opportunities (performances, workshops, lectures, etc.) for our students that will further support their learning inside the classroom.

In an alternate life, if you weren’t dancing, what would you be doing right now?

Creating SOMETHING….!

Thanks for catching up with us, Kiri! Keep an eye on our blog for our next School Spotlight Q&A.



Community Building at BH: Students and Masters Unite

“Community is defined as a group of two or more people who, regardless of the diversity of their backgrounds, have been able to accept and transcend their differences. They are able to communicate openly and effectively; and to work together toward common goals, while having a sense of unusual safety with one another.”

The Foundation for Community Encouragement

School of Dance Program Advisor Kiri Avelar writes this guest post on community building at Ballet Hispanico!

Ballet Hispanico is a community of dance; of children and adults, students and faculty.  Recently, the mother of BHdos dancer Ana Estrada reached out to us, offering to teach a FREE master class on Spanish Dance to our students, and the word community rang clear. Gabriela Estrada is currently obtaining her PhD on the influence of Flamenco on Ballet at the University of Sevilla, Spain and has a strong passion for both dance and community.

Gabriela gives a presentation to students while BH faculty look on.

Gabriela gives a presentation to students while BH faculty look on.

On Saturday, November 23rd, we welcomed Ms. Estrada to our BH studios.  A beautiful master class was held for our community of students: Pre-Professional Program levels 3A, 3B, 4A, 4B, and General Program level Teen Flamenco II. The goal of the master class was to introduce and explore the connections between Escuela Bolera, Danza Estilizada and flamenco as a group. It was so thrilling to see students across levels and programs come together alongside our faculty in one setting.

It is vital that our students have experiences, such as this one, that inspire and motivate them, giving them a real sense of what they are working towards in their regular training at Ballet Hispanico. They begin to connect the dots in their learning and are introduced to new concepts from a fresh perspective. Their world is opened up to a myriad of possibilities and experiences, all through a flamenco and Spanish dance lens. Our flamenco faculty are passionate about their work in the classroom and feel a great sense of responsibility to instill the discipline, technique, and passion of their dance form to the community of students at Ballet Hispanico.

“Their world is opened up to a myriad of possibilities and experiences, all through a flamenco and Spanish dance lens.”

Students learning a patada por bulerías.

Believing in the importance of dance for a community, we continue to explore the many ways our students can have experiences outside of the classroom that will propel and illuminate their learning inside the classroom. Providing access to new opportunities, such as Gabriela Estrada’s master class on Spanish dance, builds upon the seeds they are planting, helping to further nourish these young artists.

-Kiri Avelar

Marvin gets accepted into Professional Performing Arts School!

Poised and focused.

Poised and focused.

Ballet Hispanico wants to extend a big congratulations to our very own Marvin Hernandez, a dancer with the School of Dance who recently was accepted into New York City’s Professional Performing Arts School (PPAS)! PPAS is a public high school that trains students artistically and academically to develop a strong foundation for a professional career in the arts. Students must audition for their dance, drama, musical theater, or vocal programs.

Marvin began his studies with the School of Dance two years ago in our General Program Ballroom class with Xavier Auza.  After spending much of last year and this past summer honing his ballet technique with Pre-Professional coordinator Caridad, the dedicated 16-year-old is now enrolled in Pre-Professional Level 3B.  “Marvin is a great school citizen,” said Deputy School Director Nicholas Villeneuve, “always early for class and very passionate about performing.”

Marvin is greatly influenced by the rhythmic culture of the Caribbean and his Dominican roots, and truly embodies the Ballet Hispanico spirit. “I am so happy–I want to represent,” he said. “I have my hopes to go to Juilliard.”

Congratulations again!

“Marvin is a great school citizen–always early for class and very passionate about performing.”

School of Dance Dancer Brings Home the Gold: Spotlight on Alex Gallagher

The Ballet Hispanico blog is back and better than ever–ready  to give you updates and behind-the-scenes stories of what really goes on at BH. We’re all a flutter over here over the recent success of School of Dance student Alex Gallagher, who won a gold medal at an international dance competition last weekend. Check out her guest blog post below:

Alexa with SoD's Caridad Martinez.

Alex with SoD’s Caridad Martinez.

         This September I began training at the Ballet Hispanico School of Dance in Level 5A of the Pre-professional Program. I also train in ballet three mornings a week with Caridad Martinez, for a total of six days of dancing a week. I have known Caridad for a few years and we had discussed possibly traveling to attend various competitions and workshops. Right when I began classes last month, she brought up participating in the Danza Activa competition in Panama. My family and I decided that it would be a great experience that would help me grow and gain confidence in my dancing, so I rehearsed a variation for the entire month of September.
On October 3, I left for Panama with Caridad on my first trip abroad. I was both nervous and excited because I had also never performed a solo, or even participated in a competition before, and I did not know what to expect. Upon arriving in Panama, I was immediately relaxed: the weather was warm and sunny and I was warmly welcomed into the country by everyone I met. Before the competition started, I met many of the competitors who came from all around Latin America, and I took workshops in ballet, contemporary, jazz, and hip-hop, which were taught by the judges of the competition.
Two days later, I found myself in the theater, preparing for my performance, and to my own surprise, I remained calm. The nerves set in a few numbers before me, but as soon as my music began, I just danced.  I didn’t worry about any of the steps; I embodied my inner Swanhilda (I was dancing her variation from Act 3 of Coppelia) and simply enjoyed performing as I always have ever since I started dancing. I came off the stage beaming – not only had I just finished my first solo and competition, but I was happy with my performance. I was, and still am very proud of myself.

“The nerves set in a few numbers before me, but as soon as my music began, I just danced.”

The following night at the gala, I was called onstage with my division and after the presenters called my name they said “Oro!” Though I didn’t understand much else of what they had said since my Spanish isn’t very good, I did understand that I had just won a Gold medal and I was thrilled.
My trip to Panama was such an enriching and enlightening experience for me even though I only spent three full days there. Not only did I learn about the culture and people there as well as do some sightseeing, I also learned about myself and my dancing through watching and speaking to other dancers from around the world. I loved every minute I was there and I am so grateful to Ballet Hispanico and Caridad for giving me such a wonderful opportunity. I only hope that my dancing will allow me to continue to travel and maybe even visit Panama again soon.

Congratulations to Alex and Caridad! We couldn’t be prouder!

Dancers in the Studios, Part II

The final countdown to the Recital has begun! With just one week left until the big day, School of Dance classes are excited to perfect their pieces. BH Company dancer Jamal Rashann Callender visited our Boys Workshop classes to mentor the students and, most importantly, have fun.

Here’s what Jamal had to say about his experience:

“The classes were amazing! We spoke about many things including respect and how to make best use of your time in class. One of the great things for me was connecting dance poses to “comic figure action shots,” which for dancers are actually staccato movements. It was great to see them take that advice and run with it.

“It was really great to be in a position where I can look at these boys and see myself in them. It made me want to give them as much feedback as I could; not only for each of them to excel, but also so that one day they will be in the same position I am today.

It was a great treat for me!”

Check out these awesome and hilarious photos below:

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Dancers in the Studio

Just because our season at The Joyce wrapped a couple of weeks ago, it doesn’t mean Ballet Hispanico has slowed down at all! Our School of Dance students are very busy preparing for their End of Year Recital at the beginning of June, and BH Company members have graciously lent a hand. For the past few weeks, our dancers have been visiting classrooms to help our students perform their very best!

Recently, Lauren Alzamora visited Ms. Kiri’s Spanish Class. This is what she had to say about her experience:

“I asked to see the girls run their dance for the recital.  This was outside of their normal routine, as it was in the first half hour of class, before practicing the piece in sections.  I was pretty pleased with the run, but since there is always room for improvement, I asked each girl to tell me a spot where they messed up or could have done better.  Every girl was aware of at least one or two self-corrections, and as suspected there were some commonalities. We had the girls time on their own to practice their individual self corrections.

I narrowed it down to three areas of focus and we worked on the clarity of steps and positions in those three sections.  Next time I visit we will work those three corrections at the beginning and run the footwork section before running the dance.  We will see what they held on to!

I love how every one of the girls demonstrated self awareness – it gives the teacher the opportunity to reinforce the virtue of self-responsibility.  We are teaching them how to use their self-awareness toward a better end result (by practicing their self corrections).

I realize it is important to give them clear goals to strive for in each section. And since they don’t come to class every day, reinforce what we spoke about each time – the power of repetition! Looking forward to next week!”

We’ll have more stories in the weeks leading up to the recital. Thank you to our students, teachers, and Company dancers!

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Ballet Hispanico and NOBA

Deputy School Director Nicholas Villeneuve and some of the Ballet Hispanico Company members have traveled down to Louisiana to teach at the New Orleans Ballet Association (NOBA) for their summer residency.

Nicholas has been teaching in New Orleans for the past week. He comes back to New York this week, but he will return to NOBA for the final showings of the summer. He has shared his experience so far:

Nestled in a quaint corner on St. Charles Ave. in a spectacular old guest house, I have been here for a week enjoying warm southern hospitality. Ballet Hispanico and the New Orleans Ballet Association have partnered once again to lend some of New York’s strongest tutelage to New Orleans. Later this year, Ballet Hispanico is slated to perform on on NOBA’s bill. The NOBA summer residency consists of two members of Ballet Hispanico’s main company, Vanessa Valecillos and Jamal Callendar, along with myself teaching technique classes and creating works that will be showcased in their final performance at NOCCA on Sunday, August 4th.

Our presenter Jenny Hamilton has arranged quite the schedule as students are rotating on four individual tracks similar to our own intensive in NYC. I have had the pleasure of working with the more advanced student groups. While Richard Chen See, formerly of the Paul Taylor Company (and an Instituto Coreográfico panelist!), is setting an excerpt of Esplanade on the green track, I have created a new work for the purple track titled “Incantations.” The work explores a calling of souls and chanting to new life while paying homage to the deep rooted rituals and spirituality of the south.

Such rich and vast plethora of cultures exists here, you can feel it in the streets as you drive by the stunning mansions, churches and old buildings along every street. I have enjoyed thoroughly my experience this last week and will be returning to NYC this week to revisit our own summer intensive with Director, AnaMaria Correa. Fortunately for me, I will be coming back to NOLA to see my students’ performance on the 4th. This experience is a great opportunity for both the students of NOBA and the organizations. The students in New Orleans are privy to a wide variety of highly trained and accomplished artists and companies. Ballet Hispanico and NOBA bring much knowledge to these young dancers and aid their professional development throughout the four-week dance residency.

Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro has had a long standing relationship with NOBA and pledges to deliver only the best to each community that his company visits. I would say this residency is on its way to success, and I can’t wait to see the final performances. I have handed off my work to the amazing dancers of Ballet Hispanico today. I know when I return it will be terrific.The students have attended all my classes thus far with an eagerness and a fire that inspires me. Each day I am able to see them improve a bit at a time. I enjoy teaching and I am honored to pass on the legacy that was once given to me!

Till next week, NOLA!

Reporting from the beautiful sunny south,

Deputy Director, Nicholas Villeneuve

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First Pointe Shoe Fitting!

Ballet Hispanico School of Dance Administrator Jessica Prohias recently accompanied the students in our Pre-Professional Level 3B class to their first pointe shoe fitting EVER! Read on for details and pictures of the day that every ballerina-in-training dreams of…

It was an exciting day on Saturday, October 29, 2011. Despite the cold and snow (only the fourth time to snow in New York in October), our Level 3B students trekked over to the Capezio store on 51st and Broadway to be fitted for their first pair of pointe shoes! Caridad Martinez (BH’s Pre-Professional Coordinator) and I decided to make this a group fitting, as a first pair of pointe shoes is a huge deal for a developing dancer. As a milestone in our dancers’ young lives, please see both parents and student’s experiences of the day below:

“My first day going on pointe was….. AMAZING! Honestly, if you really try hard in ballet, when you actually go on pointe, it will be a breeze. Of course, wearing the pointe shoes felt odd at first, but then it got easier. Plus, it was REALLY EXCITING! At first, I sort of felt like a duck, I admit that. I felt like I was flopping around in big pink clown shoes. But then later I felt comfortable, and it was a really fun experience.”

-Elizabeth Weinstein

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Breaking barriers at the Ballet Hispanico Summer Intensive

Company Dancer Donald Borror sent down a report from the studios on the Summer Intensive process…

Before starting my second season at Ballet Hispanico, I was approached by Mr. Vilaro about teaching at the summer intensive. I’m from Columbus, Ohio, and I will always remember being at BalletMET and hearing about one of the pre-professional girls who went all the way to New York City and did the summer program at Ballet Hispanico and thinking it was so cool!! Right from the get go, I knew what it meant to be those kids, from Ohio, that cared enough about dance to spend your summer away from home in the studio, sweating and working on what you loved. Though I never went to the BH Intensive myself, hearing about her positive experience encouraged me to do my own exploring, taking me to Boston, New York, Montreal, Vancouver, and Dresden, Germany. Along the way, I was able to retain the tools I felt were most useful from each environment as my needs, interests, and attitudes were evolving. Plus, it gave me a chance to fill holes I felt I had in my training that I knew wouldn’t be supplemented during the school year. So zooming back to today, when Mr. Vilaro asked me to TEACH (!) at a summer intensive that helped defined what ‘summer intensive’ meant to me as a young dancer, how could I have possibly say no?!

Though I am teaching several courses, I have been very excited about the work being done in my advanced improvisation class.  First of all, I love to improvise. Going into the program, this was the place I had the most recent experience in from college at Juilliard, which today exposes its students to an array of improvisational techniques, ideas, and workshops. On top of this, the summer programs I did my last years there placed a huge importance on developing organic movement. Looking back, it quickly became clear how different these programs were from the more classically focused intensives I first participated in, and I was then eager to create a fertile, exploratory environment alongside a rigorous technical curriculum this summer.

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Pre-Professional recital!

Special thanks to BH intern Marina for putting together this great video of the Pre-Professional recital!