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Program Brings Latino Arts, Culture Into Santa Barbara County Schools, Community Centers

It’s an internationally known dance company which has performed at New York historic Apollo Theater, and Washington, D.C’s Kennedy Center.

But on this particular morning, a half dozen members of “Ballet Hispanico” are dancing in the gym at Carpinteria High School.

It’s part of a more than decade old program which highlights the cultural heritage of the region by taking Latino music and dance into Santa Barbara County schools, and community centers.

Cathy Oliverson is Education Director for UC Santa Barbara’s Arts and Lectures. She says the program uses grants and donations to fund visits by world class artists. But, the target is more than children. It’s their parents as well.

The bleachers in the gym at Carpinteria High are packed for this performance. Principal Gerardo Cornejo says except for students who are taking tests, the entire student body is on hand for the cultural experience. He says experiences like this are important to get teens in touch with their roots.

“Ballet Hispanico” Artistic Director Eduardo Valero says they’re proud to mix in educational tours like this with traditional theater performances, and feel that in many ways, these stops are more important than their theatrical appearances. Dancer Shelby Colona says as a teen, she never saw performance likes this, so she’s excited to share the art form with kids. She says she hopes it inspires them to explore the culture.

If you’ve never heard of the “Viva de Arte” program, don’t be surprised. It’s focused on schools, and community centers, with performances, and classes. They have some community events, largely through schools, but they don’t sell tickets.

What they do is free. Cathy Oliverson says they do more than 60 performances a year on average, before 10,000 to 15,000 people.

The troupe is busy during the remaining days of its Santa Barbara County visit, with performances for students Friday at Hollister and Isla Vista Schools, and community dances performances Saturday night at Guadalupe City hall, and Sunday night at Marjorie Luke Theater in Santa Barbara.