San Antonio’s Southside is home to a very special community of creators, hard workers, and people that inspire—many of whom are leaders across the Alamo city. Our Southside Makers and Shakers blog series celebrates Southsiders making their mark. Each addition to the series offers new insight into the community and the gente that make the Southside so unique.
In this blog, we interview the namesake of Sarita’s Dance Studio, Inc., owner and Southside leader Sarita Zúñiga.
Interview With Sarita Zúñiga
Tell us about yourself.
I am so proud to say that I have been in the dance and fitness field for over 60 years. In those years, I’ve taught aerobics, dance, and wellness classes at some of our city’s most notable Air Force bases, schools, banks, universities, hospitals, and more. In 2006, I felt humbled to be honored by the South San Antonio Chamber of Commerce for community leadership and for making a positive impact on the Southside. It was a great privilege for me to represent our city in 2007 and 2014, as the Rehearsal Coordinator for the Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker during their performances in San Antonio, TX. I am also the Founder of Alegría Dance Company, a pre-professional dance company for talented dancers who would like to experience what it is like to dance in a professional setting.
One of my most joyful moments was in 2014, when Congressman Pete Gallegos presented me with a Congressional Award for providing valuable dance training to San Antonio’s Southside residents for 34 years.
What inspired you to become a Southside leader, and what keeps you motivated to continue your work?
In 1972, I moved to San Antonio from Laredo, Texas. I wanted to take some dance lessons to continue my dance training and could not find a dance school that offered all the dance genres I needed to continue my dance career. The dance schools that were available did not have any cultural classes such as ballet Folklorico; so I decided to offer dance classes in my carport at no charge to the children in the community. Before I knew it, I had a lot of children in the neighborhood attending my classes. My father convinced me that it was time for me to open up my own dance school. In 1980, I borrowed money from him to start my school. I found a small place at 9201 S. Zarzamora St. After two years I outgrew the space. We couldn’t afford the main drags (e.g., SW Military Dr.) so we searched for a piece of property off the beaten path. We found a small house at 3739 Commercial Ave. By this time, we were offering fitness and dance classes to the community. After 15 years, we outgrew the space and built a bigger building from the ground up on the same property. Our dance school houses three dance studios within the building. We currently offer Ballet, Tap, Jazz, Contemporary, Pointe, Ballet Folklorico and continuing dance education.
What keeps me motivated to continue this work is seeing talented students walk through these doors every day to perfect their craft. They are so dedicated and hard working as they strive to be the best they can be. They continue to inspire and motivate me to offer programs that will help them achieve their goals to be professional dancers, instructors or studio owners. But most of all, our goal is to inspire our students to return and give back to the community.
How do you/how does your organization give back to San Antonio, foster collaboration, or build partnerships with other organizations/leaders?
Sarita’s Dance Studio continues to strive to offer scholarships, through our Dancing Dollar Program to assist students who want to make dance a career and to children who would like to learn how to dance but may not have the funds to do so. We also collaborate with other dance organizations and professionals to help our students expand on their training by bringing guest Masters to our school such as Pepe Ovalle, from Ballet Folklorico de Chicago, Flow 40 Dance, Ballet/Jazz/Tap Intensives, Cultural Dance Camps for children ages 3 and up.
From June 14-16, 2024, we will be hosting Amelia Hernandez’s Ballet Folklorico de Mexico’s summer intensive for dancers who aspire to enhance their ballet Folklorico training. We help our students with the audition process to help achieve their professional goals in the dance industry to be accepted in colleges throughout the United States that offer dance education degrees in management, instruction or as a professional dancer in the entertainment industry. In addition, we collaborate with a local organization, Human | Artist | Dancer, also known as HAD, which is a nonprofit organization founded to serve young artists focused on dance as a serious aspect of their future plans to help students receive scholarships to achieve their dreams and goals.
Looking to the future, what initiatives or projects are you most excited about, and how do you believe they will benefit our city and its residents?
We are excited for the Zócalo project by VIDA, a gathering space for festivals, concerts and movie nights. We would like to be a part of this project by providing entertainment for the festivals and concerts via our dance company, Alegría Dance Company.
What makes the Southside unique compared to other parts of San Antonio?
The culture and the enduring values that Southside Mom and Pop businesses have instilled in their children.
Where can folks find Sarita’s Dance Studio?