When you watch a performance presented by the School of Dance, you are watching next-level, professionals grace the stage. The dancers are strong, graceful, and powerful.
They look like they were plucked straight from a Broadway stage or the Lincoln Center Theatre, but let it be known that even the best dancers have to start somewhere. Sophomore BFA Dance major, Gabe Rocha, can attest.
“I took my first ballet class starting from square one,” Rocha said. “I never knew that dance had so much form and structure.”
With all the intricacies that come with the art, it takes years and years of practice to master. Even then, there is still always more to learn and improve on.
“I began dancing at the age of 12 at Extensions Dance Company in Chicago,” Rocha said. “After training for over a year, the artistic director asked me to join the youth company where I began performing and competing in dance. I continued dancing at Extensions up until my senior year of high school.”
The dance education of Gabe
Hailing from Chicago, Rocha dance training was amplified by the opportunity to train with and learn from a variety of choreographers and dancers.
“I got to learn from so many well-known choreographers in the Chicago area,” Rocha said. “I also got to work with guest choreographers from all kinds of world-renowned companies.”
Even with his Chicago training under his belt, Rocha took his dance career to the next level in the summer of 2017 when he attended the Julliard Summer Intensive.
Juilliard Summer Dance Intensive is a specially curated three-week in-person program designed to both introduce dancers to Juilliard and to provide them with information about college dance programs that will assist them in making decisions about their education that are in line with their professional goals.
The program is extremely competitive and features classes in ballet technique, pointe, partnering, modern, hip-hop, yoga, and more. Dancers also get the opportunity to rehearse new choreography and repertoire for a showcase that is presented at the conclusion of the intensive.
“When I first auditioned, I never expected to get in,” Rocha said. “This summer intensive was such a dream for me. I was in such shock when I got accepted.”
In a short three-week period, Rocha learned from some of New York City’s finest dancers, choreographers, and teachers at the prestigious conservatory.
“I was pretty young at the time,” Rocha said. “When I left, I wished I had more time to continue gaining information.”
So, he did just that.
“I was so inspired by the previous year,” Rocha said. “I just had this feeling that I needed to audition again.”
In the summer of 2018, Rochas headed back to New York City for another summer of training at Julliard.
“My second time around, I was able to work with Alicia Graf Mack, the new Dean and Director of Julliard,” Rocha said. “I was so inspired by her and my peers. The experience really contributed to the dancer that I am now, and I still think about those six weeks to this day.”
Throughout his lifetime of dance training, the University of Arizona’s School of Dance was a program that always stuck out to him.
“I had to two faculty members that I worked closely with who attended Arizona years ago,” Rocha said. “They always talked so highly of the program which got me really interested in the school.”
When he started getting ready to audition for college, the University of Arizona’s Dance program spoke for itself, with its triple-track training method being a stand-out.
“I immediately fell in love,” Rocha said. “This program allows dancers to explore all different genres of dance, the main three being ballet, modern, and jazz. Other schools typically do not have that opportunity.”
It is this kind of training that turns dancers into well-rounded professionals. Afterall, these days the industry demands that dancers are proficient in all styles.
“Before coming to Arizona, I took modern dance class the least,” Rocha said. “When I started taking modern courses here, I immediately fell in love with the technique.”
Between dance classes in all styles and balancing a normal “college life,” Rocha can attest that college itself comes with a learning curve
“The teachers here guide you and set you up for success,” Rocha said. “But I have learned how to be more responsible with my schedule and learned how to do many things independently throughout my time here.”
Attending the University of Arizona’s School of Dance is something any dancer dreams of. Rocha says that open-mindedness is key.
“Some advice I would give to someone who wants to be a member of the UA Dance Ensemble would be to be very open minded and to take risks. I always wanted to train in only one style, but training in three different styles at one time has helped me enjoy my time here and work on being a well-rounded dancer. This program has continuously inspired me and grown my love for dance.”
By Taylor Maresca (’22), Arizona Arts
Photos by Cheryl Mann