From Brazil to Pima

Aurora Gonçalves-Shaner has been dancing since she was 4 years old. Born in São Paulo, Brazil, Gonçalves-Shaner's artist mother always dreamed of being a dancer, but her family could never afford lessons.

When she had children, she enrolled her two daughters into ballet classes. Gonçalves-Shaner's older sister eventually quit—but she stuck with it.

Unfortunately, when she was about 10, the family could no longer afford to pay for the classes. She remembers seeing a friend in one of the dance classes that she wanted to take. "I saw her and I started crying," she said. "(I remember thinking), 'I wanna be in her shoes!'"

Her mother knew dancing was important to her daughter, so she spoke with the owner of the studio and worked out a trade that allowed Gonçalves-Shaner to take the dance classes, while her mother did odd jobs.

Gonçalves-Shaner ended up dancing with that studio for many years, eventually completing the Royal Academy of Dance method. At 19, Gonçalves-Shaner auditioned for the Ballet Teatro Castro Alves (aka the Bahia Ballet), a Brazilian contemporary-dance company. She said she was the youngest dancer in the troupe, with some of the senior dancers in their 30s and 40s.

Gonçalves-Shaner, up to this point, had only ever danced ballet, so working with the company was a challenge for her. "I would get there an hour earlier and leave an hour later than everyone else," she said.

The Bahia Ballet traveled a lot, and Gonçalves-Shaner was able to go to Europe multiple times with the company.

Gonçalves-Shaner said that one of the things she loved most about dancing with Bahia was the length of the pieces. They would last anywhere from 15 minutes to a whole hour.

"(It gave you a) chance to develop your character, to push your limit," she said. "It was very challenging."

After dancing with Bahia for a number of years, Gonçalves-Shaner decided to pursue an education in the United States. She studied ballet and ballroom dance and received her bachelor's degree in dance from Brigham Young University. She went on to receive her MFA in dance from the UA.

Gonçalves-Shaner now teaches at Pima and the UA. She said that she enjoys watching her students' progress.

"I try to mold them. ... (I help them) memorize the steps and improve movement quality," she said.

4 Elements is a student-dance performance that Gonçalves-Shaner has conceptualized and directed; she also plans to perform in it.

"I wanted to create a show that explored a lot of styles," she said.

In 4 Elements, dancers will be interpreting water, air, fire and metal. Beyond dancing, the show will also incorporate a lot of traditional art, such as large paintings and backdrops. 4 Elements will also make use of props.

"I wanted to explore more things other than just movement," Gonçalves-Shaner said. "(I wanted) to come up with a higher level of production, and I think we did that."

Gonçalves-Shaner mentioned that a student came up with a dance that will be a part of the water segment. The piece is titled "Teardrops," and is, as the title indicates, a more melancholy performance.

"I don't like being literal," she said. "We're trying to express each element through movement, making a visual effect for the audience."

Gonçalves-Shaner said she thought a lot about the abstract, imaginative aspect of dance.

"I picked these four, because they would be fun and creative to work with," she said.

She hopes that this creativity and imagination will resonate for the audience. She said that she wants audience members to be entertained—but also inspired. Finally, she wants to spark creativity.

"The art of dance combines your body, heart, spirit and mind," she said. "It's great to see yourself progress. ... (Dance is an) art form; it's therapeutic; and you can engage your heart and body in it."

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