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The DSPA Gems went to the movies for their 13th annual recital June 8 at the Maricopa High School Performing Arts Center. With performances in the afternoon and evening, the all-ages troupe (from age 2 to adult) showed off what they have learned this year, dancing to cinematic choreography in large and small groups.

Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa High School Performance Company performed its spring dance concert, “Choose Your Own Adventure,” Friday night and will take the stage again tonight at the Performing Arts Center. The students pack 31 pieces into two hours, featuring choreography by the students and artistic director Alexandra Biggs. Dancers are from the MHS Performance Company as well as Dance I and Dance II students.

MUSD dance students perform May 10 and May 11.

Think you can dance? These kids can.

What: MHS Dance Show
When: May 10-11, 7 p.m.
Where: MHS Performing Arts Center, 45012 W. Honeycutt Ave.
How much: $7/adults, $5/students, children and seniors 65+
Info: 520-568-8100

Maricopa High School dance students present their spring dance recital May 10-11.

“Choose Your Own Adventure” contains 31 pieces, with 23 of the numbers choreographed by students. Like the children’s book series, dance director Alexandra Biggs has allowed them complete artistic freedom in their choice of songs, costumes and genres.

“It’s been amazing as a director to watch them work and explore their artistic voices,” she said. “They’ve been working so hard, and I am beyond proud of them.”

The student choreographers are mainly members of the school’s Dance Performance Company, with five from Biggs’ Intermediate Dance 2 class.

“We have everything from jazz, contemporary, modern, hip-hop, musical theater and ballet included in this year’s show,” Biggs said. “New to this show are several solo pieces, which are being performed and choreographed by the students. We also have brand new costumes for all of our large class pieces.”

The box office opens at 6 p.m., and showtime is 7 p.m. The shows are often sellouts.

DSPA Gems, Inc. announces the availability of a minimum of $5,000 in performing arts tuition grant money. This local nonprofit provides performing arts opportunities to children regardless of a family’s ability meet financial obligations.

Shannon Wallace, DSPA Gems, Inc. president, said these funds are available due to a variety of fundraising activities. Some of these fundraisers include Maricopa’s annual city-wide Daddy Daughter Dance, which almost 200 people attended, and the annual Sugar Plum Tea. Funds were raised from ticket sales, the generous bidding on silent auction items and the purchasing of flowers and song dedications.

All grant money awarded will be applied towards tuition for performing arts classes.

In order to qualify to receive grant money, an applicant MUST:
• be aged 2-18 years old and reside in Arizona
• show proof of enrollment in upcoming performing arts classes (if previously enrolled, must have followed all applicable class rules and have maintained regular class attendance)
• show financial need per the debt-to-income ratio worksheet or by providing qualifying papers for reduced or free lunch program through an Arizona public school for the current year
• provide the IRS tax returns of the parent(s) or guardian(s) from the 2 previous years
• write an age appropriate essay about why the child wants to participate in performing arts and how grant recipient requirements will be kept

Tuition grant recipients are selected by the DSPA Gems, Inc. selection committee based upon funds available and need. The selection committee has determined that programs in which the participant is involved in an activity considered a sport are not eligible.

Recipients are required to:
• attend performing arts classes regularly and follow all applicable rules
• maintain an account in good standing with the performing arts class provider
• complete the required number of community service hours determined by the grant selection committee upon award of the tuition grant

The grant application, as well as requirements for grant applicants and recipients can be picked up at Desert Sun Performing Arts, 19756 N. John Wayne Parkway, Suite 107.

Applications are due and must be post-marked, no later than Feb. 28. Grants will be awarded at DSPA’s 13th annual recital June 8.

Applications may be mailed to: DSPA Gems, Inc., PO Box 736, Maricopa 85139
For further information, email questions to: Joshua.babb@dspagems.org

DSPA Gems resented their annual holiday dance showcase and fundraiser, the Sugar Plum Tea, to a large crowd at Maricopa High School’s Performing Arts Center Saturday. The Desert Sun Performing Arts students performed a variety of dance styles, included pieces from “The Nutcracker,” and the audience tried tasty treats and checked out raffle items.

Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa High School Dance Department’s Performance Company presented its annual showcase Friday and Saturday in the Performing Arts Center, this year with the theme “Icons.” With numbers choreographed by dance students and Artistic Director Alexandra Biggs, they celebrated iconic musical artists from Elvis to Usher, and included a powerful spoken word piece by Maya Angelou.

Maricopa dancers Hannah Struckmann, Crystabel Sanchez, Giselle Sanchez an Katie Sherrod perform Erin Hildick's choreography of "Fix You." Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopan Eddie Perry, 19, won the Maricopa Arts Council’s second Choreography Showcase Saturday.

Edde Perry accepts his award from MAC’s Susan Cameron and DSPA’s Ceylan Gentilella.

The competition at the Maricopa High School Performing Arts Center was voted on by the audience. The event, sponsored by DSPA Gems and performed by Onyx dancers, was book-ended by the Desert Sun Performing Arts dance recital. Perry graduated from MHS in 2017. Other competing choreographers were the team of Grace Becking, Destinee Chavis and Myka Borunda, whose “Weight in Gold” finished second, Erin Hildick, whose “Fix You” finished third, Samantha Perry, Jalen Reyes, Lexie Vargas and Katie Sherrod. Themes ranged from suicide to partying. All of the choreographers also danced in each other’s numbers. Other Onyx performers were Tatum Roeske, Crystabel Sanchez, Giselle Sanchez and Hannah Struckmann.

ONYX Dance Company in rehearsal

For the second year, the ONYX Young Choreographers Showcase will take flight in the Maricopa Performing Arts Center.

What: ONYX Young Choreographers Showcase
When: June 30, 3 p.m.
Where: Performing Arts Center, 45012 W. Honeycutt Road
How much: $7
Info: Dance@DesertSunPerfomringArts.com, katherinesherrod@yahoo.com, 520-483-8915

Started last year as part of the Maricopa Arts Council’s arts expo, the event is a performance and a contest. Choreographers in their teens and early 20s have created dances developed by the ONYX Dance Company, resident troupe of Desert Sun Performing Arts.

The showcase will feature approximately 15 dances and will start at 3 p.m. June 30.

Following the slate of performances, audience members are asked to pick their favorites. People’s Choice prizes will be awarded to the top three. First place receives $300, second place $150 and third $50.

Award funds are underwritten by Maricopa Arts Council and Desert Sun Performing Arts.

The showcase is a long-term dream of DSPA’s founder and director, Ceylan Gentilella. Herself a talented choreographer, Gentilella knows first-hand the excitement of bringing a dance creator’s personal artistic vision to life in real-time presentation before the public – definitely an acid test for the work.

“ONYX dancers and choreographers have been working hard all season to bring an amazing show to the city of Maricopa,” said Katherine Sherrod, president and co-founder of ONYX Dance Company. “We cannot wait to see you there.”

This story appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.

Alexandra Biggs has taken over a lively dance program at Maricopa High School. Photo by Mason Callejas

Afternoon light blazes through the small rectangular windows of a dance studio inside Maricopa High School.

See photos from the winter dance recital

The illuminated beams are interrupted by the graceful, outstretched hand of a slender dancer. All at once, the elegance is met with a drop of a hip-hop beat, then a physical twist and a stomp as a group of elite dancers join the floor and together pivot styles from contemporary to jazz.

The MHS Performance Group rehearses under the refined eye of the school’s new dance teacher, 26-year-old Alexandra Biggs.

“Dance instills so many life lessons outside of just how to point your feet,” said Biggs, a technically trained ballerina. “You learn self-discipline and self-motivation.”

Biggs grew up in Farmington, New Mexico, and fell in love with ballet at age 3.

As time for college came, she decided to pursue a career where she could teach the art she treasured.

“I thought, ‘If I love this so much, then instilling it in the next generation is where my heart and my passion are,’” Biggs said. “So, it was an easy decision.”

Biggs graduated from Grand Canyon University a year and a half ago with a degree in Dance Education. She taught dance to preschool-aged children before accepting her first professional, full-time position at MHS.

In addition to instructing advanced and intermediate dance students, Biggs also teaches novices in her Dance 1 class, where 90 percent of the class is freshmen.

“They are new to it so it’s so much fun to see them expand their world to include dance,” Biggs said.

Biggs inherited the dance program from Toshia Jackson, “a sassy, jazz teacher” known affectionately by students as “Mrs. T,” according to sophomore Rylin Balgaard.

Balgaard, 15, began the dance program as a freshman with Jackson and quickly moved her way up to Performance Group.

Biggs exposes students to a polished focus on dance, including special instruction on ballet etiquette.

“I know the previous teacher – I’ve heard wonderful things about her – did a lot more hip-hop and less of the technical side of it. So being a technically trained dancer, my emphasis is more on doing things correctly, especially in ballet, and building that base for anything else that they want to do,” Biggs said.

Grooming her dancers to become educators is also on her list.

Performance Group President Jalen Reyes, 17, aspires to become a dance instructor after college. He was recently accepted to Northern Arizona University and is eligible for the Lumberjack Scholarship.

He had no previous dance training before enrolling in the program as a freshman, but his natural talent on the dance floor and behind-the-scenes choreography has lent well to the program. As a senior, Reyes attends a mixed-level class during the day and is Biggs’ aide in a lower-level course.

“I’ve got to see her teach and I think she’s really effective in knowing who she’s working with, so she knows how fast to go. I think she’s great at teaching,” Reyes said.

Biggs, a Maricopa resident, plans to grow the MHS program into one with a “reputation of excellence,” and an incubator for future dance instructors.

“I have had several (students) come to me to talk about letters of recommendation for dance education programs, and I’m all for it,” Biggs said. “It’s not an easy job – that’s the misconception. It’s really long hours and it’s physically really demanding sometimes, but it’s worth it to see other kids watch me teach and want to teach. I think that’s the biggest compliment a student can give me.”

This story appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.

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Photo by MPhoto by Mason Callejasason Callejas

Members of the Maricopa High School Performance Company, part of the school’s dance program, performed their winter recital, “Dedications,” Friday and Saturday in the Performing Arts Center. Dances were choreographed by artistic director and instructor Alexandra Biggs and students Sara Brock, Danielle Anderson, Natasha Nechvatal, Riley Bell, Averi Pepper, Myka Borunda, Fides Bernales, Jalen Reyes, Samuel Peters and Stirling Luckey.

Click photos for larger images.

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Submitted photo

Sept. 24, seven members of the Maricopa Wells Dance Team performed at a home Diamondbacks baseball game at Chase Field. The performance was part of the pregame activities for the Diamondback and Florida Marlins baseball game. This is the second year that instructor Yvonne Palm has taken students from her dance class to the annual Diamondbacks Dance Day. The dance team from Maricopa Wells performed along with other dance teams from across the state.

“As a dance class and team, we had an amazing opportunity to perform a dance at the D-Backs Dance Day,” Palm said. “I am so proud that the Maricopa Wells Middle School Dance Team got to be involved in this fun event.”

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Photo by Dean Crandall

Dancers from Desert Sun Performing Arts in Maricopa performed their spring recital at Maricopa High School Performing Arts Center June 3. DSPA had two shows, separated by the first Choreographer’s Showcase, where Samantha Perry received the People’s Choice Award.


Saturday will be a busy time for the Onyx dance troupe of Desert Sun Performing Arts. Submitted photo

Homemade dance hits the stage June 3 in the conclusion of “Got Arts, Maricopa.”

What: Young Choreographers Showcase
When: June 3, 3 p.m.
Where: Maricopa Performing Arts Center, 45012 W. Honeycutt Ave.
How Much: $5

What: Better When I’m Dancing DSPA Recital
When: June 3, 1 p.m. & 5:30 p.m.
Where: Maricopa Performing Arts Center, 45012 W. Honeycutt Ave.
How Much: $15-$20
Info: Dance@DesertSunPerformingArts.com; 520-483-8915

Besides the established schedule of fine arts and performing arts events, Maricopa Arts Council’s arts expo introduced the city to poetry slams, studio crawls, a world music showcase, performing arts gala and a movie-shorts competition.

The concluding event is another Maricopa first: ONYX Young Choreographers Showcase.

Desert Sun Performing Arts director Ceylan Gentilella called it “something really cool.”

“Dancers in our contemporary company, young adults and teenagers will be choreographing their own dances,” she said. “It’s nice to see what they come up with, who’s got the eye for movement.”

Staged in between two performances of the 11th annual DSPA recital “Better When I’m Dancing,” the choreography challenge will be judged by the audience. People’s Choice awards go to first, second and third place, with prize money of $300, $150 and $50, respectively.

Gentilella said the event was originally conceived as an adult competition, but she was seeing something special among her ONYX troupe.

“We’ve got real talent,” she said.

Eddie Perry, part of the Maricopa High School Class of 2017, has already choreographed locally for Families First CDC. He is one of the nine choreographers presenting six dances.

“I love choreographing because it helps me with my teamwork and being able to communicate properly,” he explained in his pre-recital notes.

Dances in performance are also choreographed by Riley Bell and Erin Hildick, Allison and Madison Tucker, Giselle Sanchez and Crystabel Sanchez, Samantha Perry and Katie Sherrod.


ONYX Young Choreographer’s Showcase
Choreographers: Riley Bell and Erin Hildick
Dance: Escalate
Song: Escalate
Artist: Tsar B

Choreographers: Allison Tucker and Madison Tucker
Dance: We Get What We Deserve
Song: Way Down We Go
Artist: Kaleo

Choreographers: Giselle Sanchez and Crystabel Sanchez
Name of dance: Love on the Brain
Song: Love on the Brain
Artist: Rihanna

Choreographer: Eddie Perry
Dance Name: Monster
Song: Joy/Monster/Forget You/You Don’t Know My Name SMLE Remix
Artists: Nicki Minaj, Missy Elliot, Ceelo Green, Alicia Keys

Choreographer: Samantha Perry
Dance Name: Water Guns
Song: Water Guns
Artist: Todrick Hall

Choreographer: Katie Sherrod
Dance Name: Wicked Game
Song: Wicked Game (Live)
Artist: James Vincent McMorrow

Choreographers: Riley Bell and Erin Hildick
Dance Name: Chandelier
Song: Chandelier (Piano Version)
Artist: Sia

This story appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.

Tonya Thacker danced to "Piece by Piece" as the grand finale of the Performing Arts Gala. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Musicians with Maricopa Music Circle, singers with the Maricopa Chorus and dancers from Desert Sun Performing Arts presented the inaugural Performing Arts Gala Oct. 22 at the Maricopa High School Performing Arts Center.

Ceylan Gentilella works with her son Michael, 7, and Noah Ghee, 7, at her dance studio Desert Sun Performing Arts, where the Inspire class is dedicated to children with autism. Photo by Jake Johnson

By Katie Mayer

When Glennwilde Groves resident Ceylan Gentilella was in college, she moved from dance to recreation therapy. It was a choice that would impact the lives of those around her as much as her own.

The New Jersey native attended Montclair State University and earned two degrees – one in dance and one in therapeutic recreation. With her newfound passion for helping those with special needs, she started a wheelchair dance program and in 2003 was approached to start a dance program for youth with severe and nonverbal forms of autism.

“It worked really well,” Gentilella says. “There is so much we take for granted in working with youth who do not have autism.”

Today, Gentilella continues to make a difference in the lives of children through her dance studio Desert Sun Performing Arts (DSPA). The studio is the only brick-and-mortar dance school in Maricopa and is celebrating its 10th season in business.

Providing both recreational and intensive dance to youth age 2-18, the studio also offers a program called “Inspire” for children with autism. Gentilella also founded the studio’s nonprofit DSPA Gems, which helps those without the financial means to access dance classes. To date, the program has awarded $20,000 to youth in Maricopa.

“Everyone and anyone who wants to dance can,” Gentilella says. “Boys and girls, as well as those who may not be able to pay for it.”

Photo by Jake Johnson
Photo by Jake Johnson

And this includes children with autism – many of whom require additional considerations when learning to dance.

“Will their shirt fit properly? Can you touch the child to fix their movement? What is their comfort level with the music and bass acoustics? Will they have a meltdown?” Gentilella says.

There are accommodations that must be made to ensure a positive experience for youth with autism, but they are also accommodations Gentilella has come to know well. Seven years ago, she gave birth to her son Matthew, who was diagnosed with autism at age 3.

“I think all of my training was God preparing me,” Gentilella says.

As a small-business owner in Maricopa in a traditionally tough industry to survive, Gentilella has worked hard for years to keep the doors to her business open and her studio thriving.

“It’s a big learning curve,” Gentilella says. “You stumble; you fall and you keep going.”

And although her business success has not come easy, her greatest challenge has been raising her son.

“It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, to be a mother of an autistic son,” Gentilella says.

She has fiercely advocated for Matthew both inside and outside of the classroom and fought for the critical resources he needs. Her experience prompted her to start Parent Support Maricopa, which brings parents of children with autism and special needs together for advocacy and resource-sharing.

“We had a lot of obstacles to overcome with my son and his school just understanding his autism,” Gentilella says. “We are here to help and do what we need to do … it comes from a place of wanting positive change.”

Photo by Jake Johnson
Photo by Jake Johnson

Sarah Doyle, dance instructor for DSPA, says she admires Gentilella’s perseverance as both a businesswoman and a mom to a youth with special needs.

“She is very smart and super organized,” Doyle says.

Doyle’s children, ages 6, 9 and 12, also dance at the studio and love it. Two of her children are boys and take hip-hop classes.

“It’s been so fun to see them grow and appreciate music and dance,” Doyle says.

Even those families who haven’t traditionally been involved with dance have found Gentilella’s dance studio to be a positive place for youth to dance and grow.

One of those is Maricopa resident Karra Hathaway, whose 11-year-old daughter Chandler has danced at DSPA all 10 seasons. Chandler has danced competitively and takes every class offered, including hip-hop, jazz, ballet, tap and even clogging.

“I never anticipated my daughter being a dancer, and this is a new world for me,” Hathaway says. “Ceylan has really taken Chandler under her wing and always seems to care greatly for the girls and boys who dance.”

Hathaway jokes that she will never be a “dance mom,” but said she appreciates the discipline that dancing has taught her daughter.

“It teaches her hard work and that things don’t always come easy,” Hathaway says. “She has to work for it and it has taken her years to really show the improvement that she is wanting to show.”

For Gentilella, that is just one of the reasons she’s kept her doors open through the tough years and continues to do so today.

“It’s the most gratifying thing seeing my students grow,” Gentilella says. “The measure of success for a business is the company you keep, and I feel strongly that all of our families are wonderful people and I’m really grateful just to be a dance teacher.”

She also follows her dream in honor of her mother, who was a big supporter of Gentilella’s dance career, but passed away before she could see her daughter’s success. In fact, it was her mother who was going to play piano for Gentilella’s ballet productions.

“She always told me to follow my dreams,” Gentilella says. “She was my greatest advocate.”

And today Gentilella has become that advocate for others.

Search Parent Support Maricopa on Facebook.com

This story appeared in the Winter Edition of InMaricopa The Magazine.