DENVILLE, NJ -- Brianna Isabella Castro (16), a junior at the Morris County Vocational School District Academy for Performing Arts, is a recipient of the New Jersey Governor’s Awards in Arts Education (NJGAAE) Student Award for Artistic Excellence and Leadership in Dance.

According to a press release, this award is given to a high school dance student who expresses superlative academic excellence and creativity in essay, skill in performance and originality in choreography. The Student Award for Artistic Excellence and Leadership in Dance is one of the annual Governor’s Awards in Arts Education and is sponsored by Dance New Jersey, which is the official state affiliate of the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO).

Growing up in Dover, dance and music has always been a part of Castro’s life. Taking dance classes since she was 12, she first joined a salsa caleña team known as Paso a Paso, where for two and half years, she trained, competed and choreographed. At age 14, she began working with a professional dance company in New York City, known as Códari, which offered her opportunities to grow and travel the country performing.

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Castro later applied to the Morris County School of Technology (MCST) to major in dance, where she trained further in ballet, modern, jazz, improvisation and choreography. She also focuses on dance history, nutrition, anatomy and dance film, while engaging in additional performance showcases.

Castro said that MCST has given her a platform to be creative, push past her limits and learn valuable life lessons.

“After receiving the news that I had won the NJGAAE Student Award for Artistic Excellence and Leadership in Dance, I was overwhelmed with joy and pride,” said Castro. “As well as being an acknowledgment, it also feels like a justification for my hard work and self-doubt faced during this process. There are countless times [when] I have felt as though I [was] not good enough to pursue this as a career. A part of me was also worried that the judges would not be as impressed with my movement. Through the process of winning this award, I [have] learned that I cannot compare myself to others who have been training since they were two -- instead, to continue focusing on being the best I can be and showcasing my uniqueness. Not only has this award boosted my confidence, but it has shown me that with determination, hard work and staying true to myself as an artist, I am more than capable of achieving my goals.”

With the award has come lots of love and praise from friends and family, according to Castro.

“My dance teacher at VoTech, Lisa Peluso, who nominated me for the award and supported me from the beginning, sent me a message announcing and congratulating my triumph while I was on a Zoom call,” said Castro.

“After the call I ran downstairs and was finally able to fully soak in the moment. I began sobbing and my family had thought something terrible happened. Once I told them I had won the award, I received an incredible amount of love and hugs from my family. My friends, dance family, and mentors, who had been there supporting me throughout the process, expressed their pride and happiness for me. I could not have done it without them and I feel blessed to have them by my side.”

Along with dancing, Castro enjoys baking, reading, writing, painting and music. She also is an animal lover with six dogs at home, volunteers her time at shelters and advocates for animal rights. All these hobbies have helped her to apply and express herself, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Although these tough times in isolation can be difficult, I am eternally grateful to be with my beautiful family through it all,” said Castro.

“Before quarantine, we had such hectic schedules with work, school, dance and other activities that now we have the time to slow down and enjoy each other’s company. There are several things we do to stay motivated and happy such as daily workouts outside and family movie nights. Every Sunday my family and I make sancocho in our yard, blast music and celebrate life at home.”

After graduation, Castro plans to attend Pace University to obtain a bachelor of fine arts degree commercial dance. She also intends to work toward receiving her Environmental Conservation Certification to pursue a career in the environmental field working with plants and animals. She would like to protect habitats, educating the public about the environment and making positive change. Yet, the dance world is where Castro’s true dream lies.

“Ever since I was a little girl my biggest dream has been to go on world/national tours with different artists,” said Castro.

“Other aspirations of mine are to perform on Broadway, be in music videos, movies and commercials. Besides performing, I also have future endeavors to choreograph and teach classes. This industry has inspired me to not only live out my dreams, but to bring my knowledge and experiences back to the community. I feel compelled to continue to represent, empower and unite the Latino community. I am forever grateful for the influence and impact dance has made in my life.”


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