HCISD Performing Arts Conservatory growing local talent


Faith Zepeda confidently raised her arms as she felt the pulse of hip-hop and traditional African music fused to create an empowering environment.

She felt the irresistible beat of Gucci Snake, a song Zepeda and other students like her danced to at the HCISD Performing Arts Center this school year.

That’s when HCISD guest artist Reegan Haynes began directing the dancers across the floor inside the dance studio. 

“To have a good, solid foundation as a dancer, you need to be prepared for any style,” Haynes, an AFRO FUZION choreographer, educator and artistic director, said. “I feel like my style really prepares dancers to just be great dancers, no matter what style they decide to pursue as a specialty.”

Preparing students for specialty professions in the arts is exactly the purpose of HCISD’s new Performing Arts Conservatory, a practicum created for this school year for students enrolled in theater and dance classes. Within the conservatory, students are allowed to focus on careers in acting, modeling, and dance.

While the Conservatory offers classes taught by artistic professionals from all across the country, it also now affords similar Master Classes to the public. 

The Conservatory prepares students to enter into theater and dance tracks during college. 

Practicum students go through rigorous training by learning from HCISD guests artists, from costume designers and Broadway actors to vocalists and international choreographers. Students come from their respective campuses to spend the second half of their day gaining experience through curriculum centered around the arts.

“They’re actually taking ballet, tap, jazz, modern dance,” explained HCISD Fine Arts Coordinator Lee Ann Ince. “The theater track is taking Advanced Acting Methods. Courses that you can’t get at your regular high school campus, you can take here.”

The Conservatory aims to make triple-threats out of its students, coaching them on professional-grade dance, acting and singing.

“We try to have the full package, and they all kind of overlap, because in the industry, you need to be all three,” Ince said.

This specialized preparation is a unique opportunity for HCISD students.

“The purpose of the Conservatory was to provide students with resources that otherwise wouldn’t be available in this part of the state,” said Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education Joseph Villareal. “We don’t live near Dallas, Houston, or Austin, where you have theater arts districts and a community, and so we came up with this idea for intensive instruction for these students in the theater arts.”

Unsurprisingly, word about the rare artistic training opportunity spread far beyond HCISD.  

“There’s been a lot of interest from all over Texas, which is very neat — we didn’t expect that,” said Sally Navarro, Harlingen CISD Fine Arts Specialist. 

Along with the Conservatory’s intended purpose, it’s also produced another unexpected outcome: “We’re also giving them self-confidence, and building their self-esteem,” said Navarro. “It’s almost like we’re forming a family.”

In a Master Class this year, America’s Next Top Model winner Jaslene Gonzales taught students how to take headshots, students cheering each other on and clapping, just as they did as their classmates attempted bold dance moves in AFRO FUZION. This attitude has created an environment of mutual support and encouragement for Conservatory students. 

“I think that we started something very special,” Navarro said, a smile spreading across her face. “It’s only going to get bigger and better.”

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