Ballet Arizona

Pictured is Tzu Chia Huang of Ballet Arizona. The company as

well as EMCC dance students will perform at EMCC. It is the first

time Ballet Arizona and EMCC have collaborated in this way. (Photo

courtesy Rosalie O’Connor)

Dance students at Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) are getting an opportunity to work with Ballet Arizona’s Colleen Buckley, who is choreographing a dance they will perform at an upcoming event.

The event, “Dancing Across the Valley,” will be held at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday, March 23, at the school’s performing arts center, 3000 N. Dysart Road, Avondale. “Dancing Across the Valley” will feature Ballet Arizona’s professional company and studio company dancers, in addition to students from EMCC.

Tickets, which cost $10 for general admission, will be available at the door. It’s free to Maricopa Community Colleges students who show a student ID.

The collaboration between Ballet Arizona and EMCC’s dance department is the first between the two groups, and something both had been hoping to achieve.

Janaea Lyn McAlee, of EMCC’s residential dance faculty, has always believed with dance, it’s important to work together rather than compete. That’s why she reached out to Ballet Arizona to collaborate.

One of the most important parts of the project, she explained, was making sure all dance students were able to participate in learning from the visiting professional.

“They will all get to experience working with a professional, and they will also perform,” she said. “We are trying to bring more performing arts to the West Valley.”

Ballet Arizona had also been looking to do more community outreach, and this has been a great opportunity to do just that.

Earlier in March, Buckley spent a day with the students to work on initial choreography, and then before the performance she will return for a week-long residency to help them further prepare.

Buckley, who has been with Ballet Arizona since 2017, began dancing at a very young age. She became more serious about dancing at age 12. She attended the Draper Center for Dance Education in Rochester, New York, and then graduated in dance education from Indiana University. This is her second season with Ballet Arizona.

EMCC students and Buckley are learning from each other. This has been her first time choreographing. So far, it has been a great experience.

“The students were willing to try new moves and push themselves outside their comfort zones,” she said. “I want to challenge them, but I also want them to feel good on stage.”

The Phoenix area has a lot of professional dance performances, but it can be hard for those in the West Valley, including the dance students, to be able to attend and learn from those professionals. That’s a big reason why this collaboration has been so important.

“The dance students at EMCC will have the opportunity to perform alongside professional dancers and attend a live professional ballet performance. We are making ballet accessible for them by removing the barriers of ticket cost and travel,” Buckley said.

Continuing that idea to younger dancers in the area, this year, Ballet Arizona is offering ballet classes for preschool-kindergarten age kids at EMCC.

EMCC dance major Anthony Castro loves dancing because it allows him to express himself. When he heard Buckley was coming, it seemed a bit daunting. He wasn’t experienced with ballet.

“I was scared, but it’s been fun,” he said. “She made it more modern.”

Dalyla Bates, another dance major at EMCC, said Buckley really helped everyone at all ability levels learn the choreography.

“I thought it was going to be strict, but she broke down the moves,” she said.

EMCC dance major Alize Rojas, who has been dancing since she was 10 and mostly does hip hop, said ballet wasn’t really on her radar until this opportunity came about.

“I’m used to dancing with no rules, and ballet is all rules. But it was a good experience and I’ve learned a lot,” she said.

During the residency, Community Engagement Manager Alexandra Papazian will offer special insights to the EMCC students about the lifestyle and career of ballet dancers.

After the performance on March 23, audience members will have the opportunity to participate in a brief Q&A with dancers and event organizers.