Dalton Valerio is not your average pre-med student. Sure, he’s used his scientific faculties to pursue an interest in medicine since his sophomore year of high school. But this summer, he’ll set the chemistry books aside to immerse himself in his second love: dance. And in no minor way.
The renowned Joffrey Ballet School has been part of the New York City dance community since 1953. Its summer intensive programs require prospective students to audition for a place among equally ambitious peers, all of whom aim to spend their summers in rigorous courses five days a week. After only 18 months of studying dance, Dalton Valerio will be among them.
Valerio’s zest for jazz, ballet and modern is not the only thing that distinguishes him from his fellow pre-med students. During his senior year of high school, he volunteered with Operation Smile, traveling to India to shadow doctors working on cleft lips and palates. Then, before starting his sophomore year at UNM, he attended the organization’s Student Leadership Conference in Beijing. And this May he heads to Honduras to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, The Lion’s Club and Operation Smile. Aside from his volunteer work, Valerio attends the University of New Mexico’s B.A./M.D. program, which includes a full ride for his undergrad studies and a reserved spot at the UNM School of Medicine—that is, if he doesn’t ditch medicine for dancing. “My dad would hate that,” laughs the 20-year-old.
The B.A./M.D. program allows students to take a year off between their undergraduate and medical school studies. Valerio intends to use the year to focus all his energy on dance.
“I plan to audition for a lot of companies, hopefully get into a traveling company,” he says. “If I absolutely love it, if I can make a living off of it, I’ll stick with it. If not, I have med school.”
Another alternative for Valerio is a future in which his two passions aren’t mutually exclusive. He’s already looked into residency and fellowship programs in dance medicine because, he confesses, “I don’t want to leave dance. If I’m going to do medicine, it’ll be hard to keep up with dance fully, but I don’t want to leave it.”
Valerio became interested in the art form after participating in a high school performance, in which stories were told solely through movement. He had no prior training, but his sister Stephanie encouraged him to audition. According to Valerio, he “threw some random movements together” and got in. He also attributes his casting to a shortage of male dancers, being one of only five or six guys who tried out. From then on, he was hooked.
“I always like challenges,” he says. “My [dance] professors push me to get better, and it’s a lot of fun. There’s a lot of stress involved with memorizing equations and studying chemistry. When I dance, I just forget about it all.”
Arriving at UNM a year and a half ago, Valerio enrolled in dance classes for his electives. Upon hearing the Joffrey Ballet School was sending scouts out for its summer program, Valerio recruited his dancer friends to put him through a boot camp of sorts. He practiced every day for two weeks to prepare for the audition. “I knew it wasn’t going to be anywhere near perfect. I just didn’t want to fall.”
He didn’t fall—he was accepted to both the ballet and jazz/contemporary intensives.
As honored as he is about the opportunity, he’s nervous about the financials. “I’ve raised all my money for Honduras, but I don’t have enough for New York. I’ve already committed myself to Joffrey,” he says, “because, I mean, I’m going.”