In Ballet, Department of Dance, Students

By making the world his campus, Benja Cuque is using his training to bless the lives of others through dance

Cuque poses with Mark Bolchet, an associate professor at Utah Valley University. Photo courtesy of Benja Cuque.

Benja Cuque, a junior studying dance, has always had a passion for helping others. His journey to BYU and his desire to use the performing arts as an instrument to influence and help others led him to participate in the Ballet West Summer Intensive, an experience he is using to “pay it forward.”

Cuque, a native Guatemalan, said his time serving in the Peru Lima South Mission sparked a strong desire to come and study at BYU. After what Cuque describes as many challenges and uncountable blessings, he was accepted at the BYU English Language Center (ELC) and eventually to the university itself.

Cuque with classmate Hannah Snyder during Pas de Deux class. Photo courtesy of Benja Cuque.

Despite having an innate passion for the performing arts, Cuque never had the opportunity to take a dance class before coming to the United States. Upon his admittance to BYU, he was amazed by the fact that he was able to take a dance class in college. He took his first contemporary dance class and instantly fell in love. 

“I knew that it was going to be a challenge because of my age, but I also knew that dance was my passion. I want to use performing arts as an instrument to influence and help others, and this thought drew me to major in dance. In the future, I picture myself enjoying what I am doing and helping others. I knew right away that dance was the major I was supposed to study in college.” 

As a junior, Cuque knew that experiential learning would supplement his academic experiences. Knowing that many professional ballet companies offer summer intensives to give ballet students the opportunity to work with company members and teachers, Cuque did his own research and found out about Ballet West Summer Intensive in Salt Lake City. 

“On the day of my audition,” said Cuque, “I was nervous but excited to do my best. After hearing back from them and getting accepted to their summer intensive I was so excited and determined to take advantage of this opportunity.”

During the six-week intensive, Cuque woke up early every morning to take the train to Salt Lake City. He danced from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and returned to Provo to work night shifts.

The advanced group of the Summer Intensive pose for a photo during their ballet variations class. Photo courtesy of Benja Cuque.

Cuque said his favorite part of the intensive was the ability to be immersed in dance. “During these six weeks of the program,” said Cuque, “I learned from company dance members, invited guests and principals from professional companies. I learned from their aesthetic in movement to their own appreciation and work for the dance world.”

One of these guests, Sascha Radetsky a former soloist dancer with American Ballet Theater, made an impression on Cuque. “During the classes I had the opportunity to hear from his corrections and demonstrations. I learned that small details make a difference in dancing and on stage. I liked how Mr. Radetsky helped us to understand the importance of where rotation initiates to maximize this feature in dancing.”

Cuque said he knows that progress can be a slow process at times, but quitting will not speed it up. Some days, Cuque felt he was not performing well and felt that the material was too difficult for him because his technique was not at the level he wanted it to be. However, he pushed through and learned that there is always something to be grateful for and there is always more to improve and do better on.

Cuque with Jeff Rogers, a principal teacher at the Ballet West Academy. Photo courtesy of Benja Cuque.

“Doing our best and enjoying what we do should be our main goal and should be what matters most at the end of the day,” said Cuque. “Even though I faced a really tough family situation during my summer intensive I knew that this experience was unique and I was fortunate. I feel that this is what every internship should be, a unique and important experience. Some of those experiences might not happen twice in life so it is important to learn and take advantage of every opportunity as much as we can.” 

Cuque names Ballet West as a highlight in his dance training. Due to his summer intensive experience, Cuque organized his own non-profit dance company. This company travels and performs in nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and senior centers in Utah. His training with Ballet West prepared him to implement a project that will take him to teach creative dance in a public Mayan school in Guatemala during summer 2018.  

“Thanks to many kind donors, I had the chance to make the world my campus. As we move forward in our careers, it is important to find as many opportunities as we can in order to get in touch with the professional world. As a freshman I still remember the words of a good friend of mine. He told me no matter what you decide to study, look for opportunities to do internships, strive to explore and gain experience by learning in the outside professional world because this will give you a huge advantage over others in future opportunities.”

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