East Harlem dance troop finds inspiration in love, family ahead of 2024 Puerto Rican Day Parade

Sonia Rincón Image
Friday, June 7, 2024 6:13PM
East Harlem dance school to perform at 2024 Puerto Rican Day parade
Sonia Rincon features an East Harlem dance school performing at the 2024 Puerto Rican Day parade.

EAST HARLEM (WABC) -- If you watch for just a few minutes, you can feel the energy and excitement coming from these talented young performers.

They are part of a dance company called "Keep Rising To The Top."

Watch National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City live on Channel 7 and wherever you stream ABC 7 New York on Sunday at Noon

Violeta Galagarza, executive artistic director, told Eyewitness News about her own experience in overcoming and rising to the top after a teen pregnancy put her dance dreams and scholarship to Alvin Ailey Dance Theater on hold.

Galagarza also had to overcome a stint of domestic violence.

"It took me being challenged to being where I'm at because I wanted to escape and to be back to what made me feel safe, which was dance," she said.

A dream deferred but Violeta was determined to keep that dream alive.

A chance meeting with a Broadway director gave her the spark to begin choreographing and producing her own shows, selling cakes to raise money for costumes and eventually starting "Keep Rising" in 1989.

Now she is celebrating 35 years of training and encouraging the next generation of talent.

Students like Christella Villatoro, a psychology and sociology graduate student from NYU who is fighting a battle with Lupus, spoke about how the group has grown to be an important staple in her life.

"I emailed her, we got on the phone and we've been inseparable since," she said. "I truly believe dancing healed me in a way, along with community," Villatoro said.

Galagarza has taken the group under her wing and left a lasting impression on its members.

"Whether it's a message or a hug or something, she's gonna make sure that you're good even if it don't have to do with dance," Ashley Gutierrez, assistant choreographer to Galagarza, said. ""She means the world to me, she's done a lot for me and I would really do anything for her."

Meanwhile, Galagarza's son, Noah Catala, who had been around the group since he was 2-year-old, has become an accomplished dancer in his own right. He credits it all to his mother.

"I always feel the need to come back here just cause of the energy, the pure energy that's here, and that's all because of my mom," he said.

Violeta said seeing her son and the other dancers "just motivates me to continue to keep rising to the top."

"No matter what happens in our lives there's gonna be struggles, there's gonna be trauma, there's gonna be mistakes in life that we make or choices that you still can rise."

If you're in New York City, you can catch a live performance of the group at the annual Puerto Rican Day parade on Sunday, June 9.

Channel 7 is the proud broadcast partner of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade.

Watch National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City live on Channel 7 and wherever you stream ABC 7 New York on Sunday at Noon

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