By Marcella Robertson
Growing up, Ana Ines King was constantly surrounded by Latin culture.
Music and dance ran through her blood. She started dancing before she was even able to walk, a trait she inherited from her mother, a Flamenco and Ballet dancer.
Forgotten roots of her vibrant culture served as motivation for the Colombian native to promote Latin culture in the community.
After moving to Richmond 18 years ago, King realized that Hispanic community in the city seemed to have forgotten their heritage. She wanted people to see the importance of people needing to learn about their culture.
“When I first came here, no one even knew what Salsa dancing was,” King said.
Being immersed in her culture from a young age has shaped her into the woman she is today and given her the motivation to keep her culture alive.
“I created the Latin Ballet of Virginia to promote the Latin American culture because people were forgetting where they were coming from,” King said.
King founded the Latin Ballet in 1997. It started as a non-profit organization with only a few classes. In 2000 the company expanded and moved to the Glen Allen Cultural Center to accommodate the growth.
In 2005 a second school was added in Chesterfield County. The company is currently in the process of opening a third school at Richmond Centerstage downtown.
The Latin Ballet’s ultimate goal is to promote and preserve the Latin American culture through language and dance.
“Right now we have 450 students and we offer over 100 classes, we started with only three classes and now we have 100,” said King.
The wide range of classes available includes Ballet, Tango, Flamenco, Indian Dancing, Hula Dancing and even Belly Dancing.
“It is such a vibrant culture,” said Melissa Martinez, an instructor and former student at the Latin Ballet.
According to the 2010 Census Report, Hispanics make up 6.3 percent of the Richmond population. The company’s mission is also to help prepare the growing population of Hispanic and minority children for success in the community.
King felt that it was important for people to understand their heritage and be active in practicing their culture. She has dedicated most of her life to promoting the Latin American culture, which she says brings happiness.
Traveling to Spanish speaking countries she realized that the people there are high-spirited because they celebrate their culture.
Her belief that culture is the key to one’s identity and happiness was the reason she wanted to bring the culture back to life here in Richmond.
“I go to these places and I see that these people really are happy,” said King.
Creating the Latin Ballet in Richmond, gave Hispanics in the community a chance to be just as happy and proud to be a part of their culture.
“The most important part of the culture is music and dance, when people sing a song or when people dance or play an instrument, you automatically feel better, and feel proud,” said King.
King’s efforts have had a positive effect on the community and the Latin Ballet has gained support from other organizations throughout the city.
The Hispanic Liaison Office of Richmond, an organization that supports city agencies throughout the diverse community, has also been an advocate of the Latin Ballet.
“When there are events for example the Que Pasa Festival or the Latin Ballet performances we help to promote that to the general community so that people have the opportunity to learn about the beauty of the Latino culture,” said Tanya Gonzalez, Manager of the Hispanic Liaison Office.
Kevin LaMarr Jones, a teacher and marketing consultant for the Latin Ballet, says that it has become a place for students of all ages to come and learn about dance and culture.
Jones believes the community has greatly benefited from King’s desire to spread awareness of the culture.
“Mrs. Ana is tireless and unstoppable when it comes to sharing her passion for dance and culture. She has created something very special and unique that teaches as much as it entertains. Our community is much richer as a result,” Jones said.
When King first started the Ballet, her students were not proud of where they came from. Now, her students are excited to celebrate where they come from and she never wants them to forget it.
“I want them to be proud of what they come from and proud of where they are going. I want them to show everybody that we are, that we can,” King said.
King’s motivation and efforts to create the Latin Ballet have allowed those who had once forgotten their roots to be able celebrate their culture once again.
She says that without the culture the Hispanic people don’t have an identity and essentially don’t exist.
“If you cut what is arts, we are nobody, because we are art,” King said.