“At the end of the day, it’s not really about ballet. Ballet is what brings us together, but it’s really about all the other lessons that come out of it.”
Lexington, Ky. is a long way from Leon, Mexico, and neither locale screams “ballet.” Yet for Adalhi Aranda, both her birthplace in Mexico and her adopted home in Lexington have shaped her character and her passion for Bluegrass Youth Ballet.
Aranda grew up in a family that held the arts sacred, and from the moment she experienced her first ballet, she was in love with dance. Her parents surrounded her with classical music and art, leading her to a lifelong pursuit of dance, though she endured an old-school training style that drove many of her peers to abandon dancing altogether. “A lot of the times,” she recalls, “the teachers kind of tried to make you feel bad about yourself with the idea that then you are going to perk up, get it together, and work harder. It was a harsh training.”
When she created Bluegrass Youth Ballet as a nonprofit, she promised herself she would be more encouraging and supportive of her students in a challenging, but festive and fun atmosphere.
“My mission is to bring innovative performances and culture experiences to our community through dance,” says Aranda, who moved to the United States in 1994 and danced professionally before settling in Lexington in 2003. “I like to think that we’re bringing a little bit of authenticity to Lexington’s Hispanic culture, and bringing a love for the arts to our community.”
Like most small business owners, Aranda’s personal work ethic and dedicated staff have kept her dream thriving. She credits her parents, and her own ballet training, with instilling the discipline required to keep her business healthy. But it’s Aranda’s passionate spirit that drives her to push through the bookkeeping, logistics, and long hours teaching.
And every day since 2003, the sun has streamed into her studio near downtown Lexington, shining on a new generation of dancers grateful for their dedicated teacher.
Photos by Ed Kashi
Adalhi Aranda leads a class at the Bluegrass Youth Ballet, where she is founder and director. Aranda learned her work ethic early in life, from her parents and ballet. She’s relied on that work ethic to keep her business healthy, bouncing back and forth every day between bookkeeping, performance logistics, communicating with families, and personally teaching many of the dance classes.
Students warming up during a class at the Bluegrass Youth Ballet. Founder and director, Adalhi Aranda, has set out to “bring innovative performances and culture experiences to our community through dance.”
Dancers at The Bluegrass Youth Ballet in Lexington, Ky.
Students line up in preparation. Students of the Bluegrass Youth Ballet have gone on to work professionally for renowned ballet companies such as the Atlanta Ballet, the New York City Ballet and the California Ballet.
Students backstage at the Bluegrass Youth Ballet. Founded by Adalhi Aranda, the Bluegrass Youth Ballet has made a conscious effort to create an environment that values diversity and mutual respect.
Parents watch a training session through a viewing window at the Bluegrass Youth Ballet. The poster on the right is from one of the company’s most popular annual performances, Dia De Los Muertos, inspired by the Mexican holiday of the same name.
Adalhi Aranda, center right, talking with students during rehearsals for an upcoming performance by the Bluegrass Youth Ballet. Although Aranda enjoyed a successful career as a professional dancer, she always felt the hardline approach used by her teachers was demoralizing. Aranda’s vibrant enthusiasm and infectious positivity are inspiring a new generation to share in her passion for dance.
Founder and director of the Bluegrass Youth Ballet, Adalhi Aranda. Aranda's dedication to her students and community is helping create a more vibrant arts scene in Lexington, Ky.
Adalhi Aranda, founder and director of The Bluegrass Youth Ballet in Lexington, Ky. Originally from Leon, Mexico, Aranda trained under the Royal Academy of Dancing system and performed throughout America as a professional dancer. Aranda opened the Bluegrass Youth Ballet in 2003 to satisfy what she saw as a need for high quality dance education in a healthy, fun and encouraging environment.
Q & A
Adalhi Aranda invited us to chat in her studio near downtown Lexington.
When did you have the “aha” moment that you were going to start Bluegrass Youth Ballet?
I think that I kind of always knew that this is the path that I wanted to follow. I just wasn’t exactly sure when, or how, or where, or anything like that. [When I was learning ballet], a lot of the times the teachers kind of tried to make you feel bad about yourself with the idea that then you are going to perk up, and get it together, and work harder, and that kind of thing. Ballet is so hard, and when you don’t get any support from your mentors that are supposed to be helping you get there, it’s almost impossible. I always had this feeling of, “Why does it have to be this way?” I just had this urge of doing it differently to see what would happen.
What do you see as your role in the community of Lexington?
Bringing the love for the arts to our community. My mission was to actually bring innovative performances and cultural experiences to our community through dance. I really use ballet as a tool to do this, but ballet is just my excuse. I love ballet and I can’t imagine not doing it, but I’m using ballet to create stories that have something more than just a bunch of people dancing in a pretty costume. Our performances have a mission or a motif or a cultural aspect to them… I’m hoping that’s what I’m infusing in my community — for people to open their eyes to a different culture and to art.
What’s been the happiest moment of your career?
I think the happiest has been when we had this milestone of the 10-year anniversary. We had a performance where I got to dance with the kids, and I have this itch of dancing again and performing that never goes away. It was just full circle for me, because most of my kids have never seen me dance, have never seen me perform except in videos maybe or something, so this was so awesome for me. And just to prove to myself that I still could dance — maybe not in the same capacity, but even after all these years it hasn’t ever gone away. I think it was really neat for the kids to see that passion come back, so that was nice.
Is there one student in all the years you’ve been doing this that really stands out in your mind?
Honestly, I love the students that showed up one day and they really didn’t have anything promising as far as talent. And then somehow they transform themselves through the years. They were committed. They stuck with it, and they work hard and then… they were dancing on stage and looking beautiful. I love that, because I see myself in that when all these teachers were telling me, “Oh, you should quit. You don’t have what it takes, and your dad is wasting his money,” and things like that. I didn’t quit and these kids didn’t quit, and they’re there dancing and looking great. Those are my favorite stories when I think about it.