July 15, 2024

San Antonio College Student News

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Dance Instructor Who Survived Brain Tumor Brings Decades of Experience, Inspiration

Dance instructor Renee Castillo joined San Antonio College as an adjunct professor this fall, bringing a lifelong passion for dance and an extraordinary story of survival. Photos by Janelle Aléman; composite image by SAC Student News.

Renee Castillo has a spiritual relationship with dance. 

The mother of two, who took over San Antonio College’s dance program this fall, has been dancing since she was a young girl, and her passion for the art coupled with her faith helped her recover from a life-changing diagnosis. 

In June 2017, Castillo was diagnosed with a large brain tumor that required emergency surgery. Doctors were unable to remove all of the tumor, so she had another surgery in 2021. 

“After each surgery, I took about two months off before returning to dance,” Castillo told SAC Student News recently. “The last surgery was a miracle. I had to learn how to walk again.”

Castillo published the book “It’s Not a Solo Fight: SHE Overcame with fellow dancer and co-author Lashandria Redman in 2020. In it, Castillo shares her story of healing and the importance of faith in overcoming adversity. 

She also co-founded SHE Overcame, a non-profit organization that helps women who have been diagnosed with chronic illness. 

“We send care packages to other women going through major surgery or a life-changing diagnosis,” Castillo said. “My hope is that by sharing my journey with others, they will be encouraged and empowered with the faith to keep on fighting.”

Castillo joined San Antonio College as an adjunct professor this fall, bringing 23 years of teaching experience and a lifelong passion for the art of dance. She is trained in classical ballet, pointe, jazz, contemporary, modern, hip-hop and choreography. She is also familiar with Folklorico, the Mexican folk dance popular in San Antonio.

Born in California, Castillo moved to Arizona when she was 7. She discovered her passion for dance in Arizona, and by 12, she was committed to studying and practicing her art. Her life has been devoted to learning, practicing and sharing the art of dance since then. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance from the University of Arizona, and a Master’s in Dance Education from California State University, Long Beach.

She has performed professionally in various dance companies, including Point-technique performances in Italy. Pointe is a style of classical ballet that requires special shoes reinforced at the toe and the arch of the foot. Pointe shoes are often mistakenly called “toe shoes.”  

Castillo has taught many youth dance troupes, and several have won competitions, including one that was selected to perform at Universal Studios.

In Arizona, Castillo belonged to New ARTiculation Dance Theatre, Thom Lewis Dance, O-T-O, Safos and Ritmos Latinos. She founded and directed Dance-4-Life, a component of Higher Grounds Youth Center in Tucson that serves at-risk youth of all ages. For her efforts in dance education, she was named Arts Educator of the Year by Tucson’s Pima Arts Council in 2009.

She has taught dance for many local institutions, including Carver Community Cultural Center, Thou Art in Heaven, and Divine Appointment Dance Company. She has spent the last seven years directing the junior dancers and competition team at DNA Ballet. 

In her first semester at SAC, the southern California native taught jazz, performance dance, and world dance. She inherited a program overseen for 30 years by Professor George Ann Simpson, who recently retired.  

“I wish her a happy retirement, and I hope to fill her shoes well,” Castillo said. 

She is carrying forward a tradition that Simspon began, requiring dance majors in their final semester at SAC to choreograph and dance their own solos during the semester performances at McAllister Auditorium. 

“Castillo challenges and listens to us,” dance student Court Hein said. “There are things I needed to work on, and I was surprised my audition for a self-choreographed piece made it to the program performance. I choreographed a piece for myself and two other dancers. I’m not done with dance and will be taking more classes with Castillo next semester.”

Several of Castillos students performed their solos in the “New Beginnings” dance concert at McAllister Theater Dec. 7. 

“I want my students to be aware of all the possibilities dance has to offer — performance, teaching and choreography,” Castillo said.

Janelle Aléman

Janelle Aléman

Janelle Aléman is a multimedia journalism student at San Antonio College.
Janelle Aléman

Janelle Aléman

Janelle Aléman is a multimedia journalism student at San Antonio College.