Julie Gallego

Although Julie Gallego graduated from the UA with a degree in interior design, she eventually deferred to her heart—and decided to teach folklórico dance. The director of the Viva Performing Arts Center started in the cafeteria of St. John the Evangelist Catholic School before a series of moves led to the permanent home. Over the years, she's also introduced other dance forms to kids on Tucson's southside. The dance school, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary, has a holiday show at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Dec. 14, at the Fox Tucson Theatre. Tickets are $13 to $20, with discounts. Salvador Duran is one of the guest performers, and dancers will re-enact the posada traditions from various regions of Mexico. For more information, go to vivaperformingarts.com or chispafoundation.com.

What is Viva?

Well, we started as a folklórico school, and now have about five different dance groups. And we also have a nonprofit called the Chispa Foundation that all performances fall under to help support the students in the dance groups. The arts center is our school where we teach ... but if parents want their students to be involved in the dance groups, they join Chispa.

Where are you from, and how did you get involved in folklórico?

I'm a native Tucsonan. My father and all of my family are from here. I am a fourth- or fifth-generation Tucsonan. My father was in the Air Force. He retired, and we came back home to Tucson when I was 7. A few years later, my parents put me in a ballet folklórico dance troupe, so I danced all through high school and college. When I went to the university, I graduated in interior design, but I still wanted to continue dancing. That's when I started the school. The St. John's school cafeteria was our dance studio, and that was 25 years ago.

When did you get the space you are in now?

I stayed at St. John's for three years, but it was getting hard sharing it with bingo and the teen-youth groups. I rented different spaces, but we stayed on the southside. One of the fathers who had his daughter in a dance group asked me if he could build me a dance studio so we didn't have to keep moving. It was John Peabody. He built it at a low cost for me so I could take it back in a few years, and I could take over the mortgage. He said that even when his daughter grows up and leaves, he still wanted the school to continue. We've been here now for five years.

Why has it been important for you to stay on the southside?

I knew ... what (folklórico) did for me in my self-esteem and what it did for me in my life, and I wanted to share that with my nieces and nephews and other kids. That was my first priority. I didn't realize what a great response I'd have at St. John's. I lived on the southside of town as well. It was home to me, and I always wanted to stay.

You got to take a dance group to London for the Olympics. How did that happen?

We were very blessed. We are friends with another Mexican folklórico group called La Paloma, an adult group. They originally wanted our all-female mariachi group, but they didn't think they were going to raise enough funds. La Paloma needed someone to help them perform while they did costume changes.

How was the experience?

London was amazing ... to see all the flags and people and everything they did for the events. And when we performed, one (show) was by the Thames River, and right across it, we could see the equestrian event. It was really exciting. This organization that invited the groups to come is also going to be doing the Olympics in Brazil. We're contemplating going, but we have to decide soon so we can start saving.

What was it like for the school turning 25 this year?

In July, we had the 25th-anniversary banquet and invited all of my students. We had close to 500 people, families and children. Many of my students are now married with their children. It was unbelievable. I got to see many of these kids grow up and become adults, and went to many of their weddings. ... I did get two great surprises: One student returned who is now a professional dancer. During one of our performances, he was discovered by a UA dance professor and given a full scholarship. Another student came all the way from Denver, where he runs a successful business.

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