School of Dance

There are little moments that mean big things in everyone’s lives. Maybe it is that class you decided to take on a whim or that club you signed up for at the last minute, but for sophomore dance major Sebastian Martinez, that moment was a quinceañera (a fiesta celebration for a 15-year-old girl). 

“My mom was really wanting me to be a part of the dancing in this quinceañera,” Martinez said. “Let’s just say I was not so excited about it at the time.”

After an eighth grade Martinez begrudgingly committed to partake, he realized something he never had before.

“After one of the rehearsals, the instructor asked me if I would like to dance at the academy that he taught at,” Martinez said. “I was reluctant, but I was eventually convinced into it.”

Photos: Ed Flores

He says he will never forget the day he fell in love with dance.

“It was January 16, 2016. I will always remember that day. I went to my first dance class, I fell in love with it, and I’ve been going ever since.”

In the academy, Martinez studied several types of Latin Dance from Bachata to Merengue to Salsa and Mexican folk dance. He focused on these styles for nearly three years before he decided it was time to take a leap of faith.

“It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that I started taking my training and my technique seriously,” Martinez said. 

Martinez became a student at ASA, Arizona School for the Arts, where he majored in dance. Martinez said his high school career built him a strong foundation for his transition to college. 

“Arizona School for the Arts is very academic based. It’s not like Victorious (the Nickelodeon television show), it was very rigorous.”

A day in the life at ASA consisted of a full schedule of academic classes during the day and training at Ballet Arizona in the evening. 

“Ballet Arizona and ASA have a joint program,” Martinez said. “I was able to earn elective credit [at ASA] for being a part of the Ballet Arizona program.”

During his senior year, Martinez became a member of the pre-professional program at Ballet Arizona. A major accomplishment for any dancer. 

Graduating high school during a pandemic served as a challenge for all students, but with classes, studio sessions, and performances canceled, dancers had to do their best to stay at the top of their games.

“I went from dancing 30 hours a week to none at all,” Martinez said. “So, transitioning back into dance at the college level was challenging.”

Students at the University of Arizona were lucky to be able to attend most if not all of their fine arts classes in person. It was the time spent in the classroom where Martinez felt he learned and grew the most.

“The level of artistry that is expected is crazy high,” Martinez said. “I had never experienced that before but finding my own unique movement style while being surrounded by so many amazing dancers was surreal.”

In true University of Arizona student fashion, Martinez takes advantage of everything a big university has to offer. He is a double major in dance and psychology and a minor in music. 

“Growing up, I always wanted to do something in the medical field,” Martinez said. “One day it was biology, then it was surgery, then it was neurosurgery, then it was psychiatry.”

It was after attending a Leaders in STEM conference that Martinez realized that he was fascinated by the human mind. 

“At the conference, they asked us to name three things that we loved. My three things were music, dance, and psychology,” Martinez said. 

It was then that Martinez discovered kinesthetic empathy therapy or dance therapy.

“I love the idea of doing dance and therapy together,” Martinez said. “It is a perfect combination of everything I love.”

Martinez’s interests do not stop there. He is also a talented musician.

“I’m a musician. I play guitar, piano, and I sing as well,” Martinez said. “I would love to one day be able to accompany my own therapy sessions. My patient could dance while I play the music in a completely inclusive environment.”

While his talents and interests span across many fields, Martinez’s first love will always be dance.

“My favorite aspect of dance is performing,” Martinez said. “I love to get on the stage. I love having that feeling of nervousness before stepping onstage and hearing the sound of the applause. It’s all so gratifying.”

A key element of fine arts training is feedback from professors, mentors, and peers. Martinez said that one of the most rewarding training moments from his freshman year was born from peer feedback during midterms in modern class. 

“I went to a ballet school, so I didn’t do a whole lot of modern,” Martinez said. “Going into the class I was really nervous, and I didn’t really know what I was doing.”

In spite of the learning curve, Martinez found great success in his modern experience.

“My group did the piece, and the rest of the class gave feedback and notes,” Martinez explained. “Four people spoke, and three of them made a comment about me. It was shocking. I had never experienced reinforcement like that in a dance class. For the first time, I felt proud of myself. I felt like I was doing good. I felt like I was dancing well. I really had never felt like that ever.”

As far as advice for aspiring dancers, Martinez says to follow your passion, be kind to everyone, and go for it. 

“Just do it,” Martinez said. “If you feel like it’s something you love, just throw yourself into it. Follow whatever you feel will make you the happiest”

“I try to lead by example. It’s so important to collaborate, especially in the arts. We have so much to learn from each other and so much inspiration can be drawn from one another. Everyone has such a different story, so I think it’s really cool that we as students, dancers, and artists can listen to each other, see each other, and help each other grow.”