Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


More than just a teacher: UW Dance instructor encourages creativity, passion in studio

AJ Juarez fosters energetic community of dancers, non-dancers
Veronica Mingle

AJ Juarez, a highly decorated performer, choreographer and dance instructor at the University of Wisconsin, has lived a rich, versatile life. He has traveled the world, performed on cruise ships, danced for highly-regarded dance companies and more.

Originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, Juarez received a full scholarship at the age of seventeen to study musical theater at Fundación Julio Bocca. Soon after, he was dancing for Avenida Corrientes, the Argentine equivalent of Broadway. Eventually, he landed in Madison. 

“I come from a very poor family,” Juarez said.”My parents didn’t have enough money for dance lessons or even a bus ride. I would offer to clean studios for free dance lessons. I was like, ‘hey can I work for you? I don’t have any money, but I promise I’ll be here every day you want me, and I’ll do everything I can.’”  


All of Juarez’s training was funded through scholarships from age fourteen to twenty-one. He said transparency and communication about his passions and struggles made it more likely for people around him to help him.

Juarez said consistency should be the first step when it comes to achieving your goals. Additionally, he believes self-awareness is an essential life skill. 

“If you’re self-aware you’re aware of your progress and how you connect with other people,” Juarez said. “You can come home, reflect, fix things, and then go back the next day and be better. You will make so much more progress than the people not reflecting and just going through life on auto piolet.”  

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Juarez said pursuing a creative career is tough because you may have to battle the stigma from society and family. But it’s worth it if you are passionate about it, he said.

Not every job for Juarez has been a dream come true. About 15 years ago, Juarez worked as a mall Santa Claus in a painfully hot suit. 

Now he runs his own drop-in dance studio, Barrio Dance. Barrio, which is Spanish for “neighborhood,” embodies a supportive and loving community. The studio offers dance classes at all levels in order to push dancers to be their best.

At UW, Juarez inspires dancers to utilize movement as a tool in life.

“I also try to give them a foundation in hip-hop, so they understand the history and the culture,” Juarez said.

If someone is interested in taking a dance class but feels anxious, Juarez advises them to focus on themselves — stressing about what other people think is pointless because those people probably don’t care.

Currently, he teaches hip-hop and contemporary classes at UW. Many non-dance majors take his classes because of the enjoyable, energetic atmosphere.

Senior at UW studying psychology and environmental studies Lindsey Matthews says Juarez’s class is her favorite this semester. She doesn’t enjoy working out but loves dance and is excited about the mental health benefits.

Looking ahead, Juarez is working with a creative team on Art House 360, which will teach everything related to art. This includes things like painting, theater, singing and dancing, as well as coaching and entrepreneurship, Juarez said.

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The business model is an “artistic ecosystem” that will support the “cross-pollination” of artists and innovators. The team’s goal is to create a welcoming environment that doesn’t feel stuffy or pristine, with murals covering every wall and a workshop space “alive with personalities from all walks of life, alive with experimentation and laughter and collaboration.”  

In eight months, the team plans to renovate an old Verona school. They will work with local schools, non-profits, clubs and individual artists. Scholarships will be available for those who needs them.

To help fund the mission, there will be concessions, live music, poetry slams, gallery nights, camps and various community events. Their website has information to get involved and stay updated on the progress. 

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