Warm-up, improvise, refine and polish are the verbs Queensborough dance student Alicia Raquel uses to describe the process for choreographing her duet dance piece, which will be showcased at the Opera & Dance Gala at the St. Demetrios Cathedral Petros Patrides Cultural Center, 30-03 30th Drive, Astoria, Queens, on October 22 at 7:00 pm. The Opera & Dance Gala, which will be free to the public, is presented by the Hellenic Music Foundation.

Each year, Queensborough Community College’s dance department partners with the St. Demetrios Cathedral Petros Patrides Cultural Center to choreograph dance pieces set to classical music for the Opera & Dance Gala. This is the first year that a Queensborough dance student is the sole choreographer for one of the pieces to be performed. Usually, Assistant Professors Emily Berry and Aviva Geismar, Health, Physical Education and Dance, alternate choreography.

“I am thrilled to be working on this project. It will be my first time making a piece to be performed with a live orchestra!” said Alicia, a third semester dance student at Queensborough. “After years of practicing my craft and being given such a great opportunity to grow and explore, I feel confident that my ideas will turn into a dance I can be proud of.” Her duet partner is classmate Katherine Castrejón, who is also regarded as one of the department’s outstanding dancers.

Professor Berry tapped Alicia this past spring to choreograph for the Gala as part of Alicia’s honors project.

“We have an exceptionally strong department filled with gifted dancers and wonderfully supportive faculty,” said Professor Berry. “Alicia stood out for this project because of her unique combination of leadership, natural talent and tireless work ethic.”

Alicia’s work ethic is reflected in her perfect G.P.A. During her first semester she took two honors projects: Dance Foundation (in-depth study and presentation of Fundamentals of Dance) and English (a study of architypes and myth). The following semester she undertook a ballet honors project and a Spanish for Native Speakers project.

“Taking native Spanish was an awesome part of my development as a student because of my cultural background,” said Alicia. “Professor León is an excellent teacher who really challenged us to examine Latinx culture and experience.”

Alicia’s passion for dance began as a High School student in California. A few years after graduation, she moved to New York City to pursue dancing and got her first gigs as a teacher at the Ailey Arts in Education, and the Sadie Nash Leadership Project.

Although she had relatively little formal training, it wasn’t long before she was performing with Arthur Aviles (Typical Theatre); Andre (accent mark over “e”) Zachary (Renegade Performance Group) and Ni’ja Whitson and the NWA Project. She also created and performed her own pieces including, Hips Hands Tongue at Dixon Place in Manhattan, and the FAB Dance Salon and Brooklyn Arts Exchange and BAAD! (Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance).

Despite her early triumphs, Alicia “craved more formal training. I wanted the physical chops to execute everything I could imagine.” She explained that continuing private classes was too expensive and difficult to juggle with her work schedule.

“My girlfriend, who knows of the dance department’s excellent reputation, encouraged me to go back to school and to attend Queensborough. She believed in me and knew I could do it.” Last spring, Alicia received the Rising Star Dance Award for Queensborough students who make remarkable progress.

Alicia lives in Brooklyn and when asked, smiles about her two-hour commute to Queensborough. “To me, it’s precious time to study and strategize.”