Public Media Arts Hub

Latin American studio helps young dancers achieve their dreams


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: While many young people hope to become professional dancers, the cost of lessons, costumes and other equipment often keeps them from achieving their dreams.

It is a hurdle one studio specializing in Latin American folk dance is trying to overcome.

For our Student Reporting Labs, Natalie Lett reports.

Frank Ornelas, Director, Rascapetatiando Dance Company: You are only allowed to be a diva on stage. At performances in your daily life, you have to be approachable and you have to be humble.

Natalie Lett: Founder and instructor Frank Ornelas began Rascapetatiando Dance Company in his backyard with a dream.

Ornelas' dream is now celebrating its sixth year as a pre-professional studio in Phoenix, Arizona, specializing in a fusion of traditional and classical dance.

Frank Ornelas: Latin American folk is rooted in religion, tradition, everyday holidays that people celebrate.. and I like to educate the audience. Latin American folk goes beyond the Mexican hat dance or La Bamba.

So I'm trying to transform that and give them a spectacle where they're like, wow, we have seen this before, but not at this level.

Natalie Lett: The company's style connects young dancers like 17-year-old Litzy Bugdud and her younger sister, to their culture.

Litzy Bugdud, Dancer (through translator): The style of dance is from Mexico, and I was born in Mexico. So it closely connects me because those are my roots.

Natalie Lett: But for many families who struggle through today's economy, the cost of dance is out of reach.

Frank Ornelas: Most parents nowadays don't have $1,200 to $1,500 laying around for their child to go bounce around, which I have heard many, many times.

Litzy Bugdud (through translator): One Jalisco dress can cost $100. Also, my mother is a single mother and barely has enough money for us to get ahead. She does not have money for us to go to dance class or buy things that are not necessities.

Natalie Lett: Ornelas knows what it's like to want to dance, but not have the means to.

Frank Ornelas: My very first ballet studio that I went to, I literally went up to the owner and I told her, look, I have no money, but I want to dance. I will clean the mirrors. I will sweep the floor. I will do whatever is necessary.

For so many talented, bright young artists, it's so difficult to fulfill their need artistically, because, financially, it is such a hardship. The sponsors contribute financial support for all of the students. If there is a workshop, if there's a costume, if they need new shoes, we ask the sponsors that we have on our roster.

And if they're able to do it at the time, most of them cover the full price of what the dancers need.

Melina Gonzalez, Sponsor: Because I was a dancer myself, I know exactly what it takes and how hard it is to be a dancer. And I want to be able to be there, to be that person that I had growing up for these kids that don't have that.

Natalie Lett: The support provided from Ornelas and sponsors is not only financial.

Litzy Bugdud (through translator): Frank has been a big part of my life. He has taught me many things I never thought I would learn in a dance class,like how to prepare for life, how to be a better person. He has been more like a family to me.

Frank Ornelas: Watching my kids and my dancers, the kids that I support day in and day out, look beautiful on stage really, really makes it worth it. I wouldn't change it for anything in the world.

Natalie Lett: For the "PBS NewsHour" Student Reporting Labs, I'm Natalie Lett in Phoenix, Arizona.

Judy Woodruff: Such an uplifting story. Thank you.

Editor's Note: Roberto Suarez, Marlo Brown, Savanna Atstupenas, Chris Schwalm and Jaylah Moore-Ross contributed to this report.

Support Canvas

Sustain our coverage of culture, arts and literature.

Send Us Your Ideas
Let us know what you'd like to see on ArtsCanvas. Your thoughts and opinions matter.