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A community arts organization in the truest sense: Its work is as much about the community as the art. Artistic Director Rodolfo Méndez founded Ballet East in 1978 after a stint in the Peace Corps developing performing arts programs for youth in Costa Rica and Chile. Its twofold mission: bring dance to the community; bring the community to dance. Working out of a Martin Middle School gym and performing at the Dougherty Arts Center, the company offers a crucial training ground for young dancers and choreographers on the Eastside. Semiannual concerts feature work by students and guest choreographers local (Andrea Ariel, Sharon Marroquín, Ballet Austin artists) and national (the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Joyce Trisler Danscompany). Its Dare to Dance program has reached thousands of students since 1989 and been recognized by the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. The effectiveness of Méndez's work can be seen in Ballet East Assistant Artistic Director Melissa Villarreal: She started dancing with Méndez at age 14 and made dance a career. Méndez is a member of the Austin Arts Hall of Fame.

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