University College Alumnus Connects Tradition and Today Through Dance
By Deb Olson, University College Writer
It’s not a stretch to say that José Rosales launched a non-profit during a global pandemic just because he felt badly for his out-of-work artist friends. In fact, that’s exactly what he did. And, over one very tumultuous year, not only did the organization thrive, Rosales himself received accolades for his creative and timely vision.
Along with his business partner and husband Alfonso Meraza Prudente, both professional dancers, Rosales co-founded ArtistiCO in May 2020. What began as a virtual dance company featuring an artist/instructor per week grew into a unique visual platform producing both virtual and in-person performances and education serving to connect communities and cultures through dance.
“We’ve received so much support from our community and have been fortunate enough to have a studio where we can grow,” says Rosales, a 2018 graduate of the Arts and Culture Management graduate program at University College. “We’ve been able to support over 50 artists since last year.”
The company managed to stay active during COVID, Rosales says, because … “we [realized that] our time together as artists was essential.”
The camaraderie also proved to be innovative and productive. Over the year, ArtistiCO launched several new initiatives, including programming with such Colorado institutions as Opera Colorado, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, the Newman Center for the Performing Arts, the Mexican Cultural Center, Univision, and others; a project in Guerrero, Mexico called “Puente Artistico,” an exchange between artists from Colorado and Mexico; and, just this past May, a dance academy that now boasts more than 30 students.
“The academy is so important, as we are empowering and providing a skillset to Latinos at a young age,” Rosales explains. “It’s difficult for dancers of color to make it as a professional dancer, and we are doing our part to uplift the Latino community through dance.”
A Denver native whose mother is from Colorado and father is from Mexico, Rosales is a dedicated cultural ambassador who “proudly serves the LGBTQ and immigrant communities.” He is actively involved in civic and social justice issues in Denver, and was appointed to the Denver County Cultural Council last year to the position of Arts & Venues appointee, serving as its youngest member.
Calling him “a trailblazing sign of the times in the arts community,” the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts (CBCA) presented Rosales with the 2021 EY Next Wave Leadership Award, which “honors a rising professional who is leading the future of our culture community.”
CBCA further stated in its announcement, “Through his embrace of technology as a connector that’s not going away, [Rosales] has closed a pivotal gap in the arts community that has bridged an older generation to the millennials in a way that brings the arts close to home.”
Receiving the award was an unexpected honor for Rosales.
“What this means for me is a validation that I am doing the right thing for my community.”
Included among Rosales’s champions is Adjunct Professor Charlotte D’Armond, who recognized her student’s abilities and dedication early on.
“He did not wait to be offered a way to contribute to the arts and culture in Denver, in Colorado. and in the West,” D’Armond says. “He and his husband moved forward with the help of friends and supporters to establish ArtistiCo, a company that goes beyond the usual performance offerings to match their work with the needs of the community.”
Rosales directly attributes ArtistiCO’s success thus far to his graduate studies.
“ArtistiCO is successful because of my studies,” Rosales says. “I am using all that I learned in the program on an actual nonprofit.”
After 10 years as a member of Fiesta Colorado Dance Company, in 2014 Rosales joined the renowned Ballet Folklórico de Mexico in Mexico City where he was a principal soloist, performing internationally, and proudly, as the only American dancer to earn the sought-after role of “El Venado” (deer dancer) in the history of the company.
His proudest accomplishments with the company, he says, were his hundreds of performances in the historic Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, “the most prestigious theater in Latin America.”
Although his job with Ballet Folklórico was extremely rewarding, it was also demanding of his time. Rosales says he enrolled in the University College program, in part, because it allowed him the flexibility to continue working as a full-time artist in another country.
“My professors were always so understanding and willing to work with me when it came to my touring dates and shows,” he says.
In particular, he credits D’Armond for “her guidance and advice when making decisions that would shape my career.”
“As a student,” D’Armond says, “José showed impressive determination to complete his coursework. This was exemplified by the fact that during his first course with me … he was a lead performer in Mexico City and began the class just as the terrible earthquake rocked the town and caused incredible deaths and destruction. Though he would have had every excuse to not continue and drop the class, he persevered and provided an excellent case study on Ballet Folklorico of Denver. “
Rosales’s determination to not only persevere through each course but to attain his degree was driven by a longtime goal.
“My dream was always to own and operate a dance company,” he says. “I have always been involved in the arts as I started dancing at a very young age. … Combining my professional experience as an artist with the knowledge that I received from the program was always my goal. Let’s just say it has been the best decision so far.”
Rosales completed his coursework while in Mexico, but came home to graduate and walk with his class.
“That moment was very special,” he recalls. “Not only to me and my family but my culture.”
In addition to his husband—“my rock”—Rosales credits his family for much of his accomplishments. The sacrifice that my parents made for me to live a dream that was not economically stable … the sacrificing that they still do to this day allows me to shine.”
Even a devastating dance injury suffered in early 2019, which sidelined him for much of the year before moving back to Denver, served as an important life lesson.
“I no longer use my body as my resume, but I have really had to look into my other qualities and credentials to defend my person.”
Among Rosales’s many credentials, and additional responsibilities, are his (other) full-time job as operations assistant with the City and County of Denver and his freelance work with Fiesta Colorado, Inc., where he has served as assistant director since 2011.
The many hats that Rosales wears enable him to pursue passions beyond professional dancing, including creating understanding around his community and culture—dialogs around topics that are not easy to understand [regarding] what makes us different.”
“José has effectively combined his own personal leadership, performance acumen, and knowledge gained from the degree from DU to move swiftly into being an emerging cultural and business professional,” D’Armond says.
“He is a gift to the city and the region.”
Watch Rosales teach a Folklórico Master Class at the University of Denver!