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Carlie Bonilla Choreographs Dance in Honor of Her Mother and Grandmother

Woman posing in dance move in front of yellow screen

Dance Education Master’s student Carlie Bonilla, is choreographing a piece titled Kekoa for the upcoming Master’s Dance Concert (April 21 - 22). She discussed the inspiration her mother and grandmother provided, women warriors and the amazing students who are bringing her work to life.

Is this the first dance you’ve choreographed?

No, I choreographed as an undergrad and I currently teach at a dance studio in the Bronx. I choreograph dances for students aged 4-18 in a variety of styles including: gymnastics, hip hop, tap, ballet, and latin and Caribbean dance. 

What is your piece about? 

The name is Kekoa (Hawaiian for warrior). My intention is to have dancers use movements to show how they feel about some of the social issues we are dealing with today including: Black Lives Matter, Women’s Rights and Latino challenges. I chose this topic because it is also about female empowerment. The dancers are female warriors. They are strong and independent and that's the message I want to convey. The dance is an extension of my hip-hop midterm video, which was about police brutality. This piece is my contribution to making a positive change. 

Why was it important to you to create a dance around this material?

It's important to me because it not only showcases my art, it also represents some of the challenges my family has experienced. I live in a Puerto Rican household. My mother grew up very poor in the South Bronx and was always working to help support her family. Her parents were not familiar with American culture so it fell on her to help out. She always found a way to make sure there was food on the table. My grandmother grew up in Puerto Rico, one of 13 children. She was one of the middle children and the most responsible. She was like a mother to her siblings. She dropped out of school at an early age to work in a clothing factory. My grandmother was the first in her family to move to NY. She did so to find better opportunities to support her family back in Puerto Rico. Both my mother and grandmother had to make great personal sacrifices to help their families, and they faced many of the social challenges we are still dealing with today. They’ve had a huge influence on me and I will always be grateful.

What music did you choose?

“Heart Warriors” by Bryon Metcalf and “Agua y puerta” by Lechuga Zafiro. I was looking for a while and then I found “Heart Warriors." It has a battlefield sound to it, which is what I was looking for. 

How are you enjoying working with your peers?

I am loving the process because I am able to create and push everyone to their fullest potential. They're all extremely talented and I am grateful for them for pushing through my crazy ideas and for bringing my vision to life. 

Post graduation plans? 

I hope to get a full time teaching position with the Department of Education as well as continuing my dance training with the three dance companies I currently participate in. They include: TRC Modern Dance Company, founded by NYU Dance Education student and choreographer Dominique M. Fontenot, WRT, a Hip hop dance company curated by David Thomas, and Empire Mambo Ladies Team, which is a salsa dance company. I would also like to form my own nonprofit for disadvantaged children. It will be based on achieving social justice and how the arts can help. 

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