Taking center stage: Local program helping aspiring dancers gain industry experience

Pristine Villarreal

Step by step, a group of amateur dancers are learning what it takes to turn their passions into their professions.

“This is who we are, this is what we do and these people have become like sisters to me,” said Amaya D’Souza, a sophomore at Palm Desert High School.

D’Souza is part of the Aztec Arts Academy Dance Company at Palm Desert High School, a career and technical education program focused on professional dance.

Cristina McKeever-Chaney is the program’s creator. A professional dancer, McKeever-Chaney choreographed a blueprint to help these students learn all about the dance industry.

“Exposing them to all the jobs within dance rather than just being a dancer,” she said. “So, being a choreographer, a stage manager, a dance educator.”

Mckeever-Chaney started this program in 2021. Now, the first class of seniors are set to graduate and look to take their talents from art to occupation.

“Dance, it’s always just been there for me my entire life and I want to now continue it as a career and make it my job because it’s something I’ve loved, and I’ve done it ever since I was a kid,” said Riley Hart, a senior at Palm Desert High School and member of the Aztec Arts Academy Dance Company.

So far, this program has acquired more than $400,000 in scholarships as McKeever-Chaney invests those funds into developing amateur dancers into professionals, step by step.

“It’s a feeling of pride for sure,” she said. “I love when everything that I say and all the guests, my colleagues and friends come in and it all clicks for them, and they start to discover the greatness within them.”

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