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How TDF's Introduction to Dance program changed Antonio Rosario-Richardson's life
Brooklyn native Antonio Rosario-Richardson first fell in love with dancing at age 8, when Ballet Tech conducted a six-week workshop at his elementary school. Since then, he's studied a variety of styles, initially at Dance Atlantic Inc., now at Talent Unlimited High School, where he's a 15-year-old sophomore in the dance department. Yet despite his commitment to his chosen art form, he had never been able to see a professional dance performance until he became a participant in TDF's Introduction to Dance initiative last year.
Inspired by the success of TDF's long-running Introduction to Theatre program, Introduction to Dance was launched in 2017 in partnership with six public high schools, including Talent Unlimited. Throughout the academic year, 180 students see four performances by companies such as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Paul Taylor American Modern Dance and American Ballet Theatre, and attend six workshops led by teaching artists who are dancers and choreographers, all at no cost to the schools or participants. For many of the kids, this is their first exposure to professional dance, and Rosario-Richardson can attest to how transformative it can be.
"As a freshman, I went to go see Alvin Ailey at City Center through Introduction to Dance," says Rosario-Richardson. "I had heard of them, but I wasn't really sure what they were all about. Watching them I was just like, wow. There was everything I had been studying in their movements, like all the technical terms that I go through, I could see them in each step, and the way they connected it all just amazed me."
Rosario-Richardson was particularly captivated by Ailey's signature work Revelations, which explores the turbulent history of African Americans to a score of spirituals, gospel and blues. "I had an emotional reaction," he recalls. "In the first part of the dance, 'Pilgrim of Sorrow,' you could see how they didn't have a word in society. Then at the end, in 'Move, Members, Move,' it was all happy and they were just enjoying themselves and having a good time. I was able to feel that from them. It was one of those performances where you just dance with them."
His mother, Jessica Rosario, remembers her son coming home from that Ailey performance elated. "He was definitely inspired," she says. "Being able to specifically see an Alvin Ailey performance, he got to see dancers like him, minority dancers doing what he wants to do. So he was like, that can be me one day. A career in the performing arts, it's just so hard. TDF is one of the many resources that has taken his passion one step further."
Rosario-Richardson's new familiarity with the troupe came in handy when one of his high school dance instructors suggested he apply for The Ailey School's Summer Intensive a few months after attending that first performance. "On my birthday I had to go audition for four hours!" he says. "I got accepted and I did that for July. In the middle of that, Ailey had another audition for their year-round program, and I got in and got a scholarship. It was helpful to have seen them on stage."
While Rosario-Richardson's story is remarkable, Talented Unlimited dance teacher Babette Connor-Pisco says TDF's Introduction to Dance has enriched the lives of many of her other students, too. "The program keeps progressing and developing," she says. "Last year we had three workshops; this year we have six. So we not only get exposure to the performances—which are absolutely free—but we also go behind the scenes with the artists. That's why we love your program, because kids who would not be able to go on their own get to see this incredible dance. It's just wonderful."
Top image: Antonio Rosario-Richardson dancing. Photo courtesy of Jessica Rosario.