January, 2024 | New Mexico Kids Family Magazine
By DJ Hill
Liz Salganek was too young to remember when she was first drawn to dance.
Growing up in Santa Fe, she trained in ballet, jazz and modern dance during her formative years, eventually relocating to New York in 1997 to pursue her passion and hone her skills. After completing her education – while gaining valuable experience in the world of dance performance – Salganek returned to New Mexico to consider a second calling in dance education. Fortuitously, the opportunity of a lifetime was waiting in the wings.
A serendipitous encounter between the late Jacques d’Amboise and Leslie Carpenter, principal of Acequia Madre Elementary School in 1994, set the stage for a dance renaissance of sorts in New Mexico, one which would interconnect dance with schools, teachers and comm.unity members to bring confidence, collaboration and core life lessons to kids across the state.
D’Amboise, a noted ballet dancer and choreographer who established the National Dance Institute in New York in 1976, brought his talents to New Mexico and organized a performance with the Acequia Madre students.
Aided by former dancer and philanthropist Val Diker and Founding Artistic Director Catherine Oppenheimer, he wasted no time in soliciting funds from donors to create the nonprofit NDI New Mexico (National Dance Institute of New Mexico), which would eventually make dance programs available to kids in 32 communities across the state. The results have been astounding, with over 150,000 students served by NDl’s 30th anniversary in 2023.
But lest you think it’s all about dance, NDI strategically uses this tool to engage the whole child in the experience, knowing the long-term benefits are invaluable.
“Dance is a vehicle of the mission, a mode of expression” said Salganek, now artistic director of NDI New Mexico. “There is something so visceral about dance, the process of your body moving through space and time. There is an energy and self-image shift. Kids who were not confident ‘taking up space’ come out of their shell.”
NDI New Mexico’s in-school program is where most families first learn about the organization. The focus is on communities with the greatest need, where 82% qualify for federal free or reduced cost meal programs. According to its website: “This year we will serve more than 8,000 children, reach 325 public school teachers in 193 schools in 31 communities.”
NDI New Mexico also provides nutrition curricula and training to teachers who realize the value of adding movement to their classroom. Its instructors and visiting artists walk a fine line between high expectations and meeting each child where they are.
Some students continue on, sampling classes offered at NDI studios at The Hiland Theater in Albuquerque or the Dance Barns in Santa Fe. The organization presents diverse options to find the perfect niche for each child from hip hop to ballet with young children’s and after school classes and adult choices to boot. Dance experience is not a prerequisite, and a sliding scale fee makes classes affordable for everyone.
So how to best commemorate 30 years of programming for countless kids across the state? You can bet performances will be part of the equation. Salganek believes culminating events are a vital part of the NDI experience. Parents, alumni, classroom teachers and community members (such as police and firefighters), clamor to be involved.
“We find when we can involve the community, it allows kids to see adults in a fun and creative light. Kids see it as support,” she said. “We encourage the community to get involved.”
Performances this year will incorporate collaborations with Santa Fe High School alumnus Dana Tai Soon Burgess, director of a preeminent modern dance company in Washington, D.C. Burgess is NDI New Mexico’s first teaching artist in residence.
Additional offerings in the celebratory lineup are “Urban Verbs,” “Moving Stories,” Community Days at the Hiland Theater in Albuquerque, “Sweet Sounds of Motown,” and more. NDI will hit the road for several weeks to take its talents to communities statewide, returning in May for the unveiling of its new show, “Dream Big” – created exclusively for its 30th anniversary – with performances in both Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
While these events celebrate the performers, NDI staff and community members, they also serve as a powerful testament to – and acknowledgment of – the transformative power of dance, best illustrated by a former student Salganek remembers to this day. A fourth grader, the student was initially resistant, a class clown, who pushed the boundaries of the classroom.
In need of a course correction, the boy experienced a dramatic shift after several years of community and family partnering through his involvement at NDI and became committed to a career as a performer. NDI became a second home where he trusted that those in this circle knew his value and would never give up on him.
“NDI New Mexico is committed to the next 30 years of being there for generations of New Mexico kids. We want to celebrate their accomplishments, to shine a spotlight on them and the lifelong impact dance can have on their health and well-being.” says Salganek.
NDl’s track record bears witness to just that.