Appleton Public Library Partners With Ballet Hispánico

February 21, 2023

Celebrating the diversity of Latine, Latinx and Hispanic cultures, Ballet Hispánico recently opened up a cultural dialogue with an interactive dance workshop, a powerful performance and an enlightening post-show Q&A with audience members at your Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. Supported by Community Engagement Partner, Appleton Public Library, the dance company highlighted and explained elements of the various cultural communities they represent, complimenting their traditional meets contemporary performance. Reflecting on this partnership and providing their respective organization’s background, Appleton Public Library’s Community Partnership Supervisor, Adriana McCleer, and Ballet Hispánico’s Artistic Director & CEO, Eduardo Vilaro, share their thoughts.

Dedicated to the promotion and accessibility of the arts, the Appleton Public Library provides resources where people can enrich their lives. “We envision community members finding art that allows them to reflect on what they care about and are familiar with and introduces them to new concepts, experiences and opportunities for growth,” Adriana shared. Having been with the Appleton Public Library since 2015, Adriana has seen the impact of this partnership with the Fox Cities P.A.C. firsthand. “The library can expand the resources we can offer patrons and community members when they are looking for unique and enriching experiences,” Adriana commented. Expanding upon the library’s mission: “Learn, know, gather, grow – your center of community life,” this collaboration strengthens the community. When the Center offers engagement activities and various performing arts experiences to the community, the library often shares these with their staff and visitors.

“These engagements include displaying show posters in the library, hosting community conversations related to Center performances at the library, displaying artifacts including show costumes in the library, collaborating on a summer outdoor film series…” Adriana added, “The Fox Cities P.A.C. participates in our Explore Fox Cities (formerly FAN Pass) program that makes unique arts, culture events and programs accessible to any library cardholder.”

Supporting Ballet Hispánico, the Appleton Public Library joined the Center and the Latino Professionals Association (LPA) of Northeast Wisconsin for an in-person viewing of a virtual program with the dance company. “Attendees engaged in networking with LPA and learned about the Ballet Hispánico, influences behind their dances, and how their company engages with community across the nation,” shared Adriana. Besides these local organizations, patrons of the Fox Cities P.A.C. and newcomers also attended, open to a cultural dialogue as a community. Adriana further commented, “I appreciate the Fox Cities P.A.C. for the rich variety of programming and community engagement the staff and volunteers make possible.”

Having been founded in 1970, Ballet Hispánico has been “providing a haven for Black and Brown families seeking a place and artistic sanctuary,” for more than 50 years, as reflected on by Eduaro Vilaro. As the largest Latinx/Latine/Hispanic cultural organization in the United States and one of America’s Cultural Treasures, Ballet Hispánico has provided a deeper understanding into the uniqueness and shared qualities of these cultures. “By creating the space for Hispanic dance and dancers to flourish, Ballet Hispánico has uplifted marginalized artists and youths. The training, cultural pride and the power of representation fueled the organization’s roots and trajectory.”

Eduardo has been with the company for many years, having started as a dancer in 1985 and becoming the organization’s second Artistic Director in 2009 and later CEO in 2015. It was his goal to expand upon and deepen the legacy of Latine cultures, highlighting the intersectionality and depth of diversity found across Hispanic cultures. With its headquarters in New York City, Ballet Hispánico welcomes communities through its three main programs: the Company, School of Dance and Community Arts Partnerships. “No matter their background or identity – Latine, Latinx, Hispanic – Ballet Hispánico welcomes and serves all, breaking stereotypes and celebrating the beauty and diversity of Hispanic cultures through dance,” Eduaro remarked. “Today, Ballet Hispánico is a catalyst for social change. Our mission opens a platform for new social dialogue.”

Reaching over 30,000 audience members across the nation in a typical year, Ballet Hispánico makes way for an open dialogue with the public. Partnering with the Appleton Public Library for their residency at the Center, Ballet Hispánico engaged with the Fox Cities community “to uplift young people of Latinx heritage and inspire all to learn about Latinx culture through the lens of dance.” This was achieved by a dance workshop held the evening before their scheduled performance that was free to community members. More than 30 people of all ages and skill levels attended this workshop and learned the bachata, salsa, merengue and more.  From beginner to expert, it was evident how enjoyable the high energy dancing was.

Sitting in the audience of Ballet Hispánico on February 7, it was difficult to know what to expect. From the moment the curtains lifted, I was immediately engaged. A solo dancer in a vibrant red dress with a cascading ruffled train lifted her arms and moved in silence. Silence would play a large role in the performance, continuing the dance after the music had ended or before it had even begun. Performing three distinct yet unified dances, Ballet Hispánico’s dancers told stories featuring flamenco, Mexican Americanism and the Havana, Cuba club scene of the 1950’s. Expertly illustrating the beauty, struggles and nuances of the Latine/Latinx/Hispanic cultures through contemporary and traditional movement and music, even those with limited to no dance knowledge could understand the underlying themes and sentiments.

After the performance, more than 200 audience members stayed for a post-show Q+A with Fox Cities P.A.C. President and CEO Maria Van Laanen, Eduardo and two company dance members. Together, they were able to provide a deeper context to the pieces performed on stage and speak to the importance of diverse representation including background, age, etc. Patrons were able to also pose their own questions, wanting to understand the inspiration for the dances, how the dancers connected with their emotions and larger cultural conversations. Eduardo added, “Ballet Hispánico performances and community programs on tour familiarize audiences with Latinx culture, and many see themselves reflected in culture for the first time, prompting a ripple effect across their lives.” Performances like the this “are essential to encourage cultural dialogue within communities nationally.”

Community support for the dance workshop and post-show Q+A comes from Community First Community Engagement Series’ Partner Community First Credit Union.

Written by Philomena Dorobek, Brand Storyteller
Fox Cities Performing Arts Center