Andanza’s impact is felt throughout Puerto Rico.

Last November, the Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture in the Bronx welcomed Andanza, a Puerto Rico–based contemporary dance company. The performance marked the group’s New York debut and displayed Andanza’s range of influences, from modern dance to Puerto Rican cultural heritage, all rooted in classical ballet technique. And each piece, whether playful or contemplative, fluttered with feeling. “Puerto Ricans, when they walk, they dance, and when they speak, they sing,” says Andanza’s artistic and executive director Lolita Villanúa. “That’s something very special about our dancers. Even the most classical, they can swing.”

Andanza performing last November in San Juan, Puerto RicoThat quality is well-known and celebrated in Puerto Rico, where the company has four main annual productions in San Juan. But Andanza, founded by Villanúa and school director María Teresa Robles in 1998, is more than a professional performing ensemble. Its multifaceted mission includes education and community outreach. “We always try to integrate all three aspects—the artistic, the educational and the social,” says Villanúa.

Since the beginning, Andanza has had a dance school. Today, approximately 300 students, from the very young to the very old, take classes in everything from classical ballet to creative movement, hip hop to Pilates. A few may eventually become company members, but that isn’t the primary goal. “Arts and education are basic in a society. It’s like breathing,” says Villanúa. “The arts and dance have an intrinsic value, but they’re also instruments for social change.”

Which is why the organization’s work extends well beyond the school’s walls. Shortly after Andanza’s inception, it began doing outreach, initially offering classes to people in nearby communities. In 2002, it teamed with the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture and began broadening its scope. “We went to visit communities to offer scholarships,” says Villanúa. “And then we found there were too many, too far away.” So rather than bringing individual students to the dance school, Andanza decided to bring dance to the communities.

Now in its 13th year and supported largely by Fundación Banco Popular, the outreach project shares dance with up to 600 students in communities across Puerto Rico. The participants—young and old—take weekly classes with company members and teachers from the school. The sessions closely mimic a studio class, with a warm-up, guided improvisation and choreographed routine. Community participants also see Andanza company performances. “That’s an important part, because most have never been to the theater,” says Villanúa.

Many of the young students come from underserved communities or homes beset by violence, and the results have been profound. “You see that these children become more disciplined and more secure with themselves and learn how to respect their colleagues, and you see that their tolerance is being developed,” Villanúa says. For her, those are invaluable accomplishments. “If we get some professional dancers from all these projects, great. But if we get some sensitive and responsible and good individuals, that’s what Puerto Rico needs and what the world needs.” DT

Katie Rolnick is a frequent contributor to Dance Teacher.

Photo by Robert Villanúa, courtesy of Andanza

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