Raising the barre: Dance conservatory opens in Winter Garden

Horizon West resident Aretuza Garner recently opened the Orlando Dance Conservatory.

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  • | 9:58 p.m. July 14, 2021
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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With a deep-rooted love for dance and a leap of faith, Horizon West resident Aretuza Garner is the mastermind behind Central Florida’s newest dance school.

Orlando Dance Conservatory opened its doors in Winter Garden in June, and Garner’s goal is to offer world-class instruction in ballet and contemporary styles.

It’s not the dancer-choreographer’s first time opening a dance school. Garner has taught thousands of students and even ran her own dance academy in Turks and Caicos.

Since moving to the Orlando area in 2010, though, Garner knew something was missing. So, when the perfect location for a dance academy — just minutes from her home — came available, she knew it was the perfect time for the start of something new. 



Garner hails from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and she began dancing around age 3 because her mother also was a dancer. In Brazil, most of Garner’s dance teachers were Russian, so she was raised with the Russian technique.

Garner began dancing with a company when she was 16 and performed at festivals. It was also then that she began to teach ballet. At age 20, she received a scholarship and went to Germany to continue her training there.

She has performed, choreographed and taught on multiple continents, including her stint running a dance academy in Turks and Caicos. Half of her students there were on scholarship, and she created the Adopt-A-Dancer program so businesses and citizens could sponsor a student if they wished.

Since arriving in Orlando, Garner has worked with the Orlando Ballet and other dance schools — never once has she stopped teaching. She became well known in the area as a master ballet teacher, and she began to receive invitations to guest teach, as well as participate in professional dance competitions. But something still was missing.

“With COVID, I saw it was very hard, and everybody was trying to do classes online,” she said. “It was very hard in the dance world. People lost jobs. I always wanted to have another dance school again. I live here in the area and saw a room and gave it a chance. Everyone always said, ‘You need to open your own thing again, you’re a good boss, you’re a good director, you have this passion for ballet, for the arts and for the children. You should do it again.’” 

At Orlando Dance Conservatory, both children and adults are invited to take classes. There’s something for every type of dancer, too. Those who are looking to make dance their profession can get involved in an intensive program of training and discipline, and those who are there for fun and enrichment also have plenty of options.

“Dance is for everyone,” Garner said. “I want to cultivate a love of the art, not a love of trophies. I want to help my students be passionate, creative artists.”

Orlando Dance Conservatory has been in the works for about a year. The conservatory received its nonprofit status in January, and it has now been open for about a month. 

As a nonprofit, Garner said, the conservatory can apply for grants for the arts. Those grants — along with tuition — go toward buying costumes, renting event spaces and even sponsoring students in need.

“The vision that I created is finally happening, and I’m very blessed,” she said.



The conservatory offers various levels ranging from beginner to pre-professional, and it caters to dancers who want focused training without having to be part of a team or participate in events.

However, there is the ODC Company option for those who do want those experiences. These students will have the opportunity to participate in ballet competitions and outreach performances, including a large-scale annual production. Additionally, the conservatory has a partnership with the Saint Augustine Ballet to give students even more opportunities for collaboration and exposure.

Garner and her faculty offer instruction in classical ballet, contemporary and jazz/lyrical. Classical ballet will be taught according to the Vaganova, Balanchine and French traditions. Faculty members include instructors from Europe and Central Florida with decades of combined experience.

“Dance is for everyone. I want to cultivate a love of the art, not a love of trophies. I want to help my students be passionate, creative artists.” — Aretuza Garner

“I didn’t want the kids just to dance for trophies or competitions,” Garner said. “I wanted the kids and adults to come and take ballet class and have a love for the arts. I believe … the love for the art of classical ballet is a little lost. I always wanted to preserve that.”

To be accepted into the program, each dancer must complete a placement class. From there, Garner will determine which level of instruction the student should be placed in based on their technique and ability.

Currently, the conservatory serves 50 students. Eventually, Garner hopes her school will be recognized internationally. She plans to keep sending students who are interested in competing to ballet competitions as well as providing top-notch training. 

Even more important to her, though, is fostering a love for the art in each student — whether pre-professional or just having fun — as well as teaching them to be good people.

“No matter if you want to be a professional dancer or not, you just become a good person,” she said. “The commitment, the discipline, the respect for the teacher and yourself and colleagues … that will take you into any profession that you decide to go into afterward.”



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