Hugo Pizano Dancer

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Ev­ery spring, NDI New Mex­ico has endof-year shows star­ring hun­dreds of public­school kids in Santa Fe, Al­bu­querque, and Es­pañola, where Hugo Pizano once par­tic­i­pated with his fourth-grade class­mates from James H. Ro­driguez El­e­men­tary School. For many of the kids, it’s a once-in-a-life­time ex­pe­ri­ence in dance. Not Hugo. He’s now seven­teen, a stu­dent at New Mex­ico School for the Arts, au­di­tion­ing for the School of Amer­i­can Bal­let sum­mer pro­gram in New York, and fo­cused on a ca­reer in bal­let.

“Hugo is pre­cious. I met him as a nine-year-old,” said Les­lie Stamper, who runs the NDI North pro­gram in Es­pañola and taught Hugo’s class. “He oozed with joy, and his en­thu­si­asm was con­ta­gious. He had so much nat­u­ral tal­ent. I ad­mire his kind heart, his work ethic, and his com­mit­ment to be­ing the best he can be.”

“When I was a kid, and Ms. Stamper taught us the ‘Core 4,’ I lis­tened. It really did make me feel bet­ter about my­self,” he said. The Core 4 — work hard, do your best, never give up, and be healthy — is a cor­ner­stone of the NDI phi­los­o­phy and is taught to the fourth-graders at the be­gin­ning of their first day. Danc­ing is only part of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s mis­sion, but the teach­ers are al­ways look­ing for tal­ent at the same time — kids who stand in the front row, who smile big­ger and jump higher and have so much fun danc­ing that it wears off on the more re­luc­tant chil­dren. That en­thu­si­asm de­scribes Hugo, ac­cord­ing to Stamper. He has con­tin­ued to train at NDI’s Dance Barns in Santa Fe, where kids study tap, jazz, bal­let, act­ing, and singing and have plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties to per­form.

Along the way, Hugo said, his fa­ther con­sis­tently op­posed his danc­ing. “He doesn’t care much for it. He tells me I’m never go­ing to make enough money. But my mom told him I was go­ing to go to NMSA, and that was that. He’s get­ting used to the idea I’m go­ing to be a dancer.”

Hugo com­mutes to Santa Fe for school and af­ter-school re­hearsals and dance classes. “I leave home at 7 a.m. and usu­ally get home at 8:45 p.m.,” he said. “NMSA was dif­fi­cult at first. It’s a bal­let-cen­tric pro­gram, and I hadn’t done that much bal­let. But NDI pre­pared me a lot. It taught me how to use my en­ergy. My goal is to be a bet­ter, well-rounded dancer. I’m try­ing to let the tech­nique come into me for the fu­ture.”

“Hugo demon­strates pure and ut­ter pas­sion for dance,” said Adam McKin­ney, the dance depart­ment head at NMSA, and one of the teen’s teach­ers. “His per­form­ing and tech­ni­cal de­vel­op­ment over the past three years, in my opin­ion, puts him on track for a ca­reer in the per­form­ing arts. Come see him in our Win­ter Dances per­for­mances Jan. 22 through 24.”

Last sum­mer, Hugo won a full schol­ar­ship to at­tend an in­ten­sive pro­gram at Wal­nut Hill School for the Arts, out­side Bos­ton. The stu­dents danced eight hours a day, six days a week. The curriculum in­cluded strength train­ing us­ing a TRX sus­pen­sion reg­i­men and con­di­tion­ing in the swim­ming pool. “They were hav­ing us do leaps in the wa­ter, ski jumps, dif­fer­ent bal­let steps. The wa­ter den­sity makes it really hard,” he said. Plus, Hugo didn’t know how to swim. “I had to learn fast,” he said. “It was OK in the shal­low end, but they would have us leap­ing all the way across the pool, and it was 12 feet deep in one end.”

This sum­mer, he’s au­di­tion­ing for pro­grams with bal­let com­pa­nies in Hous­ton and At­lanta, Alonzo King’s LINES Bal­let in San Francisco, as well as the School of Amer­i­can Bal­let. His goal is to join a bal­let com­pany af­ter grad­u­at­ing from high school.

“Last win­ter we did a funny ex­cerpt of The Nutcracker ,andI got to play Fritz, the bratty lit­tle brother. I had never been given a the­atri­cal role be­fore, and it was really cool. The whole idea of us­ing fa­cial ex­pres­sion was new. I might want to branch out and take act­ing. I’d love to be in story bal­lets. But I also love con­tem­po­rary bal­let, be­cause the chore­og­ra­phy is so chal­leng­ing.” — Michael Wade Simp­son


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