By Gus Saltonstall
Ballet Hispánico does not need a special month to celebrate Hispanic culture, as it is something the dance company has been doing on a daily basis since opening on the Upper West Side in 1970.
That said, the dance school and community-based performing arts organization located at West 89th Street, between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues, does have a special selection of events for Hispanic Heritage Month, which kicked off on September 15th and runs through October 15th.
“We celebrate our Latinoness, or our Latinodad, on a daily basis because we are a mirror to representation,” Eduardo Vilaro, the Artistic Director and CEO of Ballet Hispánico, told the West Side Rag. “Wherever we go, whether it’s the professional company out on the road, or our teachers who go out to New York City schools, we are bringing that type of representation and that cultural pride to kids who might not be seeing it all the time.”
Tina Ramirez founded Ballet Hispánico in 1970 in an Upper West Side building that used to be an old carriage house. Since its inception, the dance company has gone from a grassroots organization to a National Medal of Arts awarded performing arts troupe that also houses a school for students and provides lessons for all age groups.
Vilaro, who grew up in New York City after immigrating with his family from Cuba, has led the organization since 2009. He was a dancer within the company before taking on his new role.
“We are a west side hub of Latin culture and we have been part of this community for such a long time,” Vilaro said. ““What it means is we are like most Upper West Siders. We are true blue New Yorkers, we’ve been here, we’ve stuck through it.”
“When I was coming here as a dancer there were no townhouses on our block, there was a crack house down the corner because it was the mid 80s, it was a different neighborhood,” Vilaro added. “So, we have stuck through so much change, like so many Upper West Siders, from the bad to the good, and that’s what makes us such an important member of the Upper West Side community.”
For this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month, Ballet Hispánico will offer a virtual performance for Young People on September 27, host an Indigenous People’s Day celebration on Oct. 9, and culminate the month with a Celebración Latina block party, where people of all ages are invited to West 89th Street on October 15 for live music, dancing, and food from local vendors.
“It will be one big fiesta to celebrate us coming together and how the city celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month,” Vilaro said.
Earlier in September, the Upper West Side dance organization also hosted a screening of “Buscando a Juan” in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, and also held a talk at the iconic Stonewall Inn about creating safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community within the Latino world.
While Ballet Hispánico provides programs for New Yorkers from all over the city, it has a unique connection with the Upper West Side neighborhood that it calls home.
“Being a part of the Upper West Side community for me means to be a part of a culture that’s rich in history and rich in the essence of unity,” Amanda del Valle, a dancer at Ballet Hispánico, told the West Side Rag. “It means the world to me to be a part of something that celebrates heritage and family. It means home to me.”
You can find out more about Ballet Hispánico on its website.
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