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Hispanic Heritage Month

September 15 through October 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month. It is a time to highlight the cultures and achievements of our Hispanic and/or Latine community members and we plan to shine a spotlight on several members of our organization throughout the month. Today BalletMet is celebrating Zoica Tovar, a teacher with our student and trainee divisions.

Zoica Tovar

Zoica Tovar began her training at the age of nine at the Cuban Ballet School of Havana. Upon graduation she was accepted at Classical Ballet of Havana under the direction of Laura Alonso.  Ms. Tovar’s talent and dedication allowed her to become a principal ballerina shortly thereafter. She received a silver medal in the Alicia Alonso Ballet Competition in Cuba as well as in the Brasilia International Ballet Competition in Brazil. Ms. Tovar has performed several principal roles including Kitri, Odette, Odile, Juliet, Swanilda, and many others from the classical repertoire.

Ms. Tovar danced as a principal dancer in Orlando Ballet from 1998 to 2009 under the direction of Fernando Bujones and Bruce Mark. At Orlando Ballet, she had the opportunity to perform works by Balanchine, Twyla Tharp, and other famous choreographers. During her time in Orlando, Ms. Tovar received The Sun of Florida award from the city for her artistic achievements. In 2009, Ms. Tovar began at BalletMet. During her time with BalletMet, she continued to increase her experience with roles such as Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. In addition, she worked with amazing choreographers like James Kudelka, Dwight Rhoden, Edwaard Liang and many others, increasing her contemporary dance experience. Ms. Tovar retired in 2014 from BalletMet.

Ms. Tovar has been teaching since 1995. She began her teaching career in Brazil with the Royal Ballet Academy and Palacio de las Artes, the professional company in Belo Horizonte. From 2000 to 2009, Ms. Tovar was part of the teaching faculty at Orlando Ballet, where she was in charge of the summer program auditions. She has also trained students for the Youth America Grand Prix competition. In 2012, Ms. Tovar began teaching at NorthPointe Dance Academy where she started a YAGP program. The program had excellent results including first place performances in ensemble groups for three years in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis. Most recently, from 2020 to 2022, Ms. Tovar was Co-Academy Director of the United Ballet Theatre Academy in Orlando, Florida.  During this time, she successfully created a Spring and Summer Intensive with students from all over the United States and the world.  Ms. Tovar is looking forward to sharing her passion and dedication for teaching with BalletMet in the upcoming season.

How long have you been involved with dance?
I have been involved with dance for 30 years.

How did you come to join us at BalletMet?
I was hired by BalletMet as a company member in 2009. In 2017 I received an invitation from Edwaard Liang, the artistic director of BalletMet, to be part of the faculty working with the academy. Since joining the teaching staff at BalletMet, I have taught at the academy level and the trainee program.

How do you spend your free time?
I spend my free time with my family and friends. I love traveling and discovering new places.

Has your relationship to dance changed over time? If so, how?
As a dancer you focus mostly on yourself as you want to be the best dancer you can be. As a teacher, priorities shift to the students you are working with. Your goals are about the development and improvement of your students. You have to be focused on individual students in order to help them achieve their goals.

How would you describe your cultural identity?
I am from Cuba. I describe myself as a Latino woman.

What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?
Hispanic Heritage month is a nice commemoration of Hispanic Americans who have made great accomplishments. As Latinos, we celebrate our Hispanic roots. This month reminds us of the importance of celebrating the Hispanic culture and remembering where we came from.

What do you want BalletMet as an organization to take away from this month?
I would like BalletMet to recognize that Hispanic influences are woven into arts like dance. It is valuable for all kids to learn about Spanish history and culture.

Who are your role models? What makes you look up to them?
My parents are my role models. They are both emigrants of Cuba and have very successful careers and lives. They have worked very hard to live the lives they have now.

What are you most proud of in dance and in life?
I am proud of my years of dancing and teaching. I danced several principal roles and retired very satisfied with my performance career. As a teacher, I am proud of the students I have worked with that have been able to improve and reach their goals in competitions and professional dance careers.

What advice do you have for younger dancers who share your cultural identity?
My advice would be not to focus on your weaknesses but embrace what makes you unique.  Focus on your perseverance to be your very best.

BalletMet is very proud of Zoica both as a dancer and a teacher. We are excited to have her back with us again!

 

SEPTEMBER 15, 2022

Today BalletMet is celebrating Maria Torija, the BalletMet Academy Director.

Maria Torija, BalletMet Academy Director

How long have you been involved with dance? What has your dance journey been like?
I have been involved with dance for over 40 years. My dance journey started with loving to dance. My mother used to tell me that at home I was always dancing to music. One of my earliest memories is dancing to classical music in our living room. I think I started dancing because of my love of music and movement. Also, because I’m from Spain and we have a very old and rich tradition for Spanish Dance, dance was part of my life. I saw it on TV or in the street during the famous Spanish “fiestas” at my family’s village, my city, my neighborhood etc. When I was around 6 years old, I saw a ballet on TV, and it fascinated me. Sometime after that I started taking ballet classes and ballet became my passion and reason to live. It was always clear to me that I wanted to be a professional dancer and I was very lucky that in Madrid (the city I’m from) there were and still are extraordinary ballet teachers. At age 13, after doing a summer intensive in New York City at the School of American Ballet, I was invited to stay for the regular academic year. The Hispanic-North American Committee granted me a Fulbright Scholarship to study at SAB. I was the first Spanish person under 18 that was granted a Fulbright Scholarship. So, I moved to New York to pursue my dream.  

At age 16, after three years at the School of American Ballet, I was invited to join a ballet company in Berlin, now called Staatsballett Berlin (Germany’s biggest ballet company). I danced there for over 20 years. Due to the company’s big repertoire, I was fortunate enough to dance many classical traditional ballets, Balanchine works, contemporary works, and personally work with the most influential choreographers of my time. I also started to love teaching ballet and simultaneously began teaching professional dancers regularly. Later, while I was still actively dancing, I realized that in order to really understand ballet and its technique it was fundamental to know and understand how to teach all levels and especially children. I went to college and earned a Bachelors of Art in Ballet Teaching and at the same time started teaching children at professional ballet schools. I also did my Masters in Performing Arts and after I finally retired, I received my PhD in Art History based in Ballet. Since retiring from the stage, I have taught children, adults and professional dancers in Europe, Asia and the United States. I have given seminars in teaching ballet technique to dance teachers. I have organized and participated in dance conferences and written articles for Spanish Dance Magazines. I have also been invited to judge in several competitions. Currently, I run BalletMet’s Dance Academy and I’m very fortunate to be part of this organization. 

How did you come to join us at BalletMet?
I came to BalletMet after a search committee gave me the great opportunity to direct the Academy. I always liked Edwaard Liang’s choreography and admired and respected his background and was excited to be chosen to work with him and the entire BalletMet team. 

How do you spend your free time?
I don’t have much free time but when I do I love to read, work out, watch documentaries and my favorite is to visit my family in Germany and Spain. 

Has your relationship to dance changed over time? If so, how?
My relationship to dance in its essence is the same as it always was. But now I’m more knowledgeable and I can see both the positive as well as negative that I couldn’t recognize as a young dancer. 

How would you describe your cultural identity?
I identify as a Citizen of the World. As a Spaniard I identify with the Spanish joy, positivity and sense of humor. But I lived the majority of my life in Germany, a country that educated me especially in the Arts and where I became an adult. As an American citizen, I identify with the energy and hard-working standards I learned in this country. So my cultural identity is the result of a very diverse and multicultural journey. 

What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?
Hispanic Heritage Month for me means to celebrate the wonderful Hispanic people that bring and share their cultures with the United States and I’m grateful for that. 

What do you want BalletMet as an organization to take away from this month?
The theme of Hispanic Heritage Month this year is inclusion. I’m happy and proud that BalletMet is an organization where I and others from different cultures and backgrounds feel included and supported. 

Who are your role models? What makes you look up to them?
My mother and my grandmother. Their strength, education, positivity and mainly their generosity. 

What are you most proud of in dance and in life?
In dance, my students. In life, my children.  

What advice do you have for younger dancers who share your cultural identity?
Work hard, be consistent, don’t give up, and love what you are doing. Remember that being a good person and a good dancer is fundamental for being a good artist. Don’t forget that quality will always eventually be recognized. 

Click HERE to read Maria’s biography.