Domingo Estrada, 35, a member of the Mark Morris Dance Group, might be putting on a helmet rather than a costume had certain influences not been available during his upbringing in Victoria. While he first aspired to become a professional football player, he ultimately learned that his passion was for dance. Mentors and peers at the Victoria Ballet Theatre as well as his guidance counselor at Memorial High School and others helped him to find his path.
As a teenager, Estrada joined Victoria Ballet Theatre baby classes with little girls who snickered at the “old man.” He was beginning the arduous, constant task of refining his dance technique. During that time, he also began to realize that dance was a career option, and with curiosity and tenacity, his vision of what that meant began to materialize.
The Victoria Ballet Theatre has served as a springboard for other professional dancers including Brenda Tally, 44, the artistic director for the local ballet, as well.
The desire to dance, which the local ballet inspires through public and school performances, can die without resources such as consistent access to training, Tally said.
“Speaking as a kid growing up in the community, I’m so grateful every day that Debbe Busby started a company where I could go with good training and good opportunities to do choreography and dance,” Tally said.
Tally has talked with other alumni who agree that they were always complimented on their training and work ethic anywhere they went to dance.
“That is definitely something she (Busby) gifted to us and part of the legacy and the responsibility as director that I take very seriously – to continue providing training and performance opportunities,” Tally said. “Debbe always told us that she didn’t want where we came from or (lack of) training to hinder our ability to continue dancing.”
All of the Victoria Ballet Theatre dancers have been able to go as far in dance as possible or desired without boundaries in training, opportunity or experience, Tally said.
And not every director brings in professional choreographers and master teachers to work with dancers, Tally said. Busby has brought them in from across the country, and they have brought with them all of their life experiences.
“That gave us a direct connection to the greater dance world, which then also gave us the confidence to know we could continue pursuing dance because we had already had experience in Victoria with these people,” Tally said.
Busby also continued her own training and research and brought that back to the classroom.
“Dance is a human-to-human tradition that can’t be learned from a video. It’s passed down from generation to generation, so her (Busby) making that commitment and sacrifice to continue training and bringing it back to us was especially important in Victoria, a smaller town – not a big metropolitan city. Any of us could walk into any class in New York City and feel confident because of Debbe Busby.”
Other alumni of the program also are grateful for the professional opportunities that were opened for them by the local dance company, but they stress the importance of other valuable lessons that remain with them today.
Golden Wright, 42, associate professor and chair of the Department of Theatre & Dance at Lamar University, started his dance training at the Victoria Ballet Theatre. Wright went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in dance from Sam Houston State University, and he has worked for Lamar University for 14 years.
Wright’s experience with the ballet has allowed him to travel in the U.S. and abroad to places such as New York City, Taiwan, South Korea, Austria, Germany and Italy to study and dance.
“In this digital age, the arts takes more and more of a back seat,” Wright said. “I think taking dance teaches the mind in a certain way to study, pick up details, learn about rules and following them, and structure.”
Wright said making the commitment to dance and being held to that commitment by his parents taught him skills – follow-through, attention to detail, creativity, problem-solving and collaboration – that he still uses today.
Mindy Lai, 29, is a professional dancer in New York City who has danced with a company and on Broadway. At age 9, she continued her dance training, which started in Taiwan where she was born, at the Victoria Ballet Theatre. She earned her bachelor’s degree in dance from Fordham University in partnership with the Alvin Ailey dance school.
“Victoria Ballet Theatre is probably one of the most important things in my life that has prepared me for adulthood,” Lai said. “It taught me about time management, what it means to commit to something, and what it takes to do what you love.”
Lai said that being part of the Victoria Ballet Theatre was like being part of a family that helped to shape her into the person she is today.
“They helped guide me through the most important years of my life, and I think that without Victoria Ballet Theatre, I would not have known dance was a career choice and that it was possible,” Lai said.
Lai continued that Victoria Ballet Theatre prepared her for a dance career in New York where the people are “not as sweet as they are in the South.”
“They tell you how it is and don’t sugarcoat things, and that prepares you for what you need to do next, no matter what you do next,” she said.
Tally said she and the other dancers just happened to be brought up, and in some cases, born, in Victoria.
“If Victoria Ballet Theatre had not been here, we would all be doing something else, I think,” Tally said.
The Victoria Advocate applauds Debbe Busby, Brenda Tally and all associated with making the Victoria Ballet Theatre an educational resource for the youth in our community.