Settle in this season and reflect with sisters Aisla, Ava, and Alyssa Villareal. We sat down to discuss Teens at LINES, their pathways through dance, and what they admire in one another. Enrollment for Teens at LINES’ spring semester is currently open to dancers ages 11-17. Classes begin in the New Year on January 21 and run through May 14.
Written by Erin McKay
Aisla, Ava, and Alyssa Villareal share a love for dance and continual discovery that made Teens at LINES their next right step. All three sisters trained in competitive dance, where they learned a myriad of styles, including jazz, hip hop, ballet, tap, and contemporary. At a certain point though, Alyssa, the oldest, was ready for a change.
“My growth was stagnant,” she explains. “I felt like I was being fed the same information about technique, and I wanted more. During that time, I watched a lot of concert dance videos on YouTube, and what I saw looked very different from my training. The dancers in the videos had this beautiful quality of movement. They were manipulating energy in the air, and their efficiency was inspiring. I wanted to learn how to move like them, but honestly, I was confused. I was dancing so much, training for hours a week in so many different styles… I didn’t understand why my movement quality wasn’t like theirs. And now I know. It was their artistry, something I hadn’t fully tapped into yet.”
Alyssa now attends NYU Tisch School of the Arts as a dance major. When her mom, Charlene Villareal, saw Alyssa bouncing her head rhythmically to the radio in her carseat as an infant, she decided it was time to put her in dance. Alyssa’s mom was also the one who encouraged her to branch out and try taking an open class at LINES Dance Center. In her mid-twenties, while auditioning for roles on Broadway as a singer, Charlene took open jazz classes at LINES, and those experiences stuck with her. “The teacher helped us build confidence in ourselves,” Charlene reminisces. “She didn’t really have favorites. Instead, she pushed the ones who lagged behind. I felt so good when I was at LINES. That’s why I suggested that Alyssa go check it out as well.”
Alyssa did, and she fell in love with LINES’ atmosphere and approach to training. Later, she joined Teens at LINES, a semester program for ages 11-17 based in ballet and contemporary, with additional exposure to Modern, Jazz, Hip Hop, and West African dance. Alyssa’s sisters joined the program after she went away to college.
“I really liked it at my last studio,” says Ava, “but I no longer had that same motivation or drive to continue competing. I wasn’t having as much fun as I used to; I wanted to start moving for myself.” Ava began dance at a young age and took a break to explore a number of other activities, including piano, art, swimming lessons, and cooking classes. Her sister inspired her return to the studio. “Alyssa was the reason why I went back to dance,” Ava shares. “I remember watching her in hip hop and thinking, Wow! I want to do that too! Alyssa also went with Ava to her first open class at LINES Dance Center.
“Branching out to LINES was scary for me,” Ava admits, “but I really enjoyed the class environment. It was incredibly different from what I grew up with, and I wanted more. A couple of years later, I joined Teens at LINES and trained with faculty members Daiane Lopes da Silva, Victor Talledos, and Brett Conway. They brought out a different type of passion in me. Competitive dance gave me the confidence I needed, a comfort in my own body that I didn’t know I had; LINES uncovered my drive, something I was always searching for.”
The Villareal sisters appreciated and benefited from LINES’ approach to training, an approach that they all described, with laughter, as “different”. “At the beginning of one of our contemporary classes,” Aisla, the youngest, explains, “we circled up, and our teacher gave us a prompt, asking us to think on it and share. She then used our words to create a beautiful sentence. She read it out loud before we danced; it was a motivator for us to move. Moments like this remind me that no one in class is there to judge, one up you, or bring you down. Everyone in Teens at LINES is just there to improve.”
Another thing Alyssa noticed that made LINES training different was the constant request to really dance at barre. “I became very uptight in ballet,” she shares. “I found myself always holding my breath or constricting my muscles to the max, which I now know wasn’t healthy for my body. Often, ballet training feels rigid and awkward. It stresses hitting correct positions and working with proper technique, especially at barre. But the Teens at LINES teachers told me to breathe, move, and actually dance. The freedom they encouraged us to have at the barre made a huge difference for me, especially when I went into the center. I moved better later in class because I had explored qualities and flow from the start.”
Analogies helped Aisla improve as well. “In previous training,” she explains, “I was instructed to arch my back a little bit in ballet. But when my Teens at LINES teacher demonstrated what not to do, it actually matched the posture I was trying for. Her analogies helped me adjust. She said, ‘Imagine there’s a string running up your back like a puppet, and use it to straighten yourself up.’ So I tried it, and my back lowered. I started standing normally in ballet after that!”
Aisla was inspired by her older sisters to move. She watched Ava and Alyssa dance through the screen door at their studio. Towards the end of one of their classes, Aisla wandered into the center of the lobby and moved along to the music; she knew every step. “Aisla’s got a photographic memory,” her mom explains. “She was about three at the time, and I told my husband that we had to get her into a class immediately.”
In addition to her photographic memory, Aisla exhibits a fearlessness that leaves both her mom and her sisters in awe. “When I was younger,” says Alyssa, “I was so fascinated by Aisla; she went for everything. They tried to get us to do back handsprings at our previous studio. While I was concerned about breaking my neck and my wrist, Aisla just said, ‘Ok,’ and fully threw herself back. No one taught her how to do it; she just did it. After that day, I wanted to trust myself in dance like Aisla did.”
Alyssa may still have some healthy reservations about diving backwards, but she dove head first into the rigor of her dreams. “She is very ambitious, and her work ethic is inspiring,” says her Teens at LINES teacher and college audition coach Daiane Lopes da Silva. “Alyssa does not joke around. She is extremely serious about her training. She got into almost all the schools she applied for – Gloria Kaufmann, Alvin Ailey, UCI, TISCH, etc. She is where she is now not only because of talent but because she does not let her fears prevent her from pursuing her dreams.”
“Going to LINES was definitely an important step in Alyssa’s career,” says her mom Charlene. “The girls’ teachers are wonderful, and they truly want the kids to be the best dancers they can be. There’s no real pressure to compete against each other. Before LINES, we lost sight of what was truly important. We always tried to get involved in everything to stay on top of the studio demands. We added so many hours to their schedules. We’re at the studio less now, but there is a lot more embedded in the quality of dance that they learn at LINES.”
For instance, Ava picked up an approach to class intention through Teens at LINES that helps her in other areas as well. “I went to nationals recently with my hip-hop team,” she explains, “and with competitions come competition classes. I tend to feel bad about myself as a dancer in those environments. But this time, I went in with the same mindset that I do at Teens at LINES; I focused on just taking the class. I told myself that I was there to learn, and I tried not to fixate on other people. Instead, I focused on myself and tried to make the most out of the experience. When I looked back at the class videos, I didn’t see fear in my dancing. I’ve come a long way. I always compared myself to other people when I was younger. Now, I just want to keep improving.”
Charlene feels the same way. “The move to LINES made me see the kind of dance mom that I want to be,” she says. “I’m no longer uptight and tense. I’m more relaxed. I embrace the change. I see that my girls are truly thriving, and that is the most important thing.”
One of the faculty members noticed a shift too. “The transformation I have witnessed in Alyssa goes beyond just dance,” says her Teens at LINES contemporary teacher and college audition choreographer Victor Talledos. “She’s grown as a human and discovered that there was more to her dancing than she thought there was. The maturity of her work and the curiosity of her mind, as well as her technical abilities, flourished.”
At LINES, Alyssa practiced what she saw in those YouTube videos years earlier; she began embedding herself into movement. “What stuck out to me in a class with Alonzo King,” she reflects, “was that he brought his life experience and wisdom into his teaching. That shifted my perspective. I started to see how my experiences could connect with movement.”
I discovered the way that I liked to dance while training at LINES too. The teachers encouraged my individuality as an artist. It wasn’t about earning points. It was about finding the way that felt right for me to move.”Alyssa Villareal
Aisla, Ava, and Alyssa grow day by day, and beyond the support of their teachers and mentors, it is because of the the trust and encouragement of their parents. “The passion I had inside of me for the performing arts was on fire,” says their mom Charlene, “but I couldn’t pursue it. For many reasons, I had to stop. I told my husband as we dated, ‘If we ever get married and have kids, we’re going to let them do what they want. We’re going to foster their talent and just push forth with it, because that’s something I lacked in my life.’ I have a ton of regrets,” she admits, “but I knew I didn’t want that for them.”
Charlene and her husband did exactly what they set out to do: they invested in their daughters’ dreams. “The Villareal family is super close, and they love each other,” says Daiane. “Their parents are on top of everything. They support them so much, and they too are artists!”
The family’s influence is seen in the way the girls think and move in the world beyond dance. “Ava’s creative mind and movement abilities are special,” says Victor. “But what I see as even more special is that, at such a young age, Ava is her own self, inspired by her older sister, but not trying to imitate her. She’s in her own journey of self-discovery.”
Ava isn’t exactly sure what she wants for her future, but she hopes some things will stay with her. “Even if I’m not a professional, I want to continue dancing,” she says. “I plan to keep and carry with me everything that I’ve learned in my life. Daiane told my mom that I could always work on technique, but passion is something that can’t be taught, and I have that. Those words stuck. I want drive and desire to remain with me, wherever I go and in everything that I do.”
Banner and headshot photography: Charlene Villareal
Teens at LINES
Based in ballet and contemporary training, with exposure to Modern, Jazz, Hip Hop, and West African dance, our Teens Program offers four levels of training for ages 11–17 . Students are challenged and learn in an environment that allows for maximum achievement and self-discovery. No experience or audition necessary! In-person and online options are available for the spring semester which starts January 21, 2023.
Photography: Alonzo King LINES Ballet | Teens at LINES | Dancer: Alyssa Villareal | © Chris Hardy
LINES’ Education Programs
Through robust Education Programs, Alonzo King LINES Ballet provides an environment for the unfolding of students’ own creative powers. The cornerstone that shapes our training philosophy is that art is within the artist.
Photography: Alonzo King LINES Ballet | BFA at Dominican | Dancer: Pauline Mosley | © Manny Crisostomo
Funded by a grant from the San Francisco Human Rights Commission’s Brighter Future Dream Keeper Initiative, Alonzo King LINES Ballet provides scholarships and financial aid for San Francisco Black youth residents to join arts education programs inside and outside of the classroom. Alonzo King LINES Ballet amplifies our efforts to invest in the imagination and creativity of all youth through an expansion of our dance Education Programs, HeART with LINES, Teens at LINES, LINES Training Program, and paid administrative and teaching opportunities.
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