Although students and staff alike were amazed by Gallegos’ Irish step dancing ability, he was even more proud of the final piece he choreographed for 14 of the company’s dancers. “I was very proud of it because it was dealing with what I was kind of going through at the time in many ways, and I felt that it was one of the couple times that I’ve choreographed and thought to myself ‘this is art,’ as opposed to ‘this is just entertainment,'” Gallegos explained. “This was an expression of where I was in my life at the time, and to be able to choreograph 14 people … it was a challenge for me because all of the dancers ranged from beginners to advanced dancers, so I had to find a middle ground. In the end I think I did and I was very proud of the work they did.”
Even if you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Gallegos dance, it’s clear from just speaking with him that dancing is his passion. He lights up when speaking about it; there’s no doubt that most of his happiness and energy is derived from dance. “The most amazing thing about Joe is that he has this really beautiful joy about him. Part of his joy is definitely due to his artistic sense of self-he’s an amazing dancer,” said Leora Maccabee ’05, a long-time friend of Gallegos.
Oddly enough, Gallegos has only been dancing since high school. “It was kind of late,” he confessed, “but by guy standards it’s not that late. Most professional dancers start in college, with exception of many male ballet dancers.” Gallegos’ first dance medium was tap, which he was exposed to during a musical theater production. Afterwards, he began to take classes in ballet, jazz, hip hop and even Irish step dancing. “It just progressed from there,” said Gallegos. “I started to train with a local jazz company of young people in Santa Fe called ‘Something in the Air,’ [which] is where I started to develop my technique.”
Although Gallegos has always found that dancing comes naturally to him, he is modest about his beginning years. “Looking back at my old tapes and stuff, I sucked,” said Gallegos. “But comparatively I guess to others who were starting with me, I guess I just took to it more and had a more of a natural ability to learn and grasp what I needed to do. That’s kind of why I’ve pursued it. It did come naturally, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a lot to work on. I’m still trying [to improve].”
Ken Lipitz, an associate professor of dance at UMass explained that “Joe is a quick and efficient study, one who can keep up, as a student, with those far more experienced in the dance art than he. I think Joe has a rich intuitive sense of what the teacher is talking about [and] what’s important to him.”
Added Gallegos, “As a child [dance] was something I always wanted to do, but it didn’t start until later in my life because it isn’t traditionally something that boys do. … Boys don’t really dance.” Gallegos considers himself lucky to have had parents who supported his growing interest in dance. “My parents love the fact that I do it; they support me a lot,” he said. “I don’t think that my parents were hesitant when I started dancing. I think that they’ve always just supported me.”
Gallegos’ parents’ constant support is something that also has allowed him to realize that being happy is more important than setting out to become rich. “I don’t think my parents really care what I do as long as I’m happy,” said Gallegos. “I know that’s such a cliché, but seriously, I could graduate from an institution like Amherst and just get any type of job really, and as long as I’m happy I think they’d be okay. They don’t measure success in terms of how much money you make or what type of job you have, but really just by how happy you are.”
Seeing the world
Like many Amherst seniors, Joe has applied for a number of jobs and received job offers, but he’s not sure if he’s ready to go down that path just yet. “I want to go into PR or marketing possibly, but I don’t know if I’m ready for that,” he explained. “My passion is dance. What I really want to do is perform. I’m still young and have the opportunity to do this. I don’t have a lot of time to pursue something like [dance] so I want to see if I can try and do it for a while.”
Gallegos plans to go home during the summer and spend time with his eight (and soon to be nine) brothers and sisters. “It’s been a burden somewhat to be away from my family for four years,” Gallegos said. “I really just miss my family; I kind of want to be there for the summer.”
Besides spending time with his family, Gallegos plans on pursuing a career in dance by auditioning for various dance companies and cruise ships. “One idea I have is auditioning for cruise ships and dancing for some of the more elite cruise ships that have a need of dancers with strong backgrounds,” explained Gallegos. “It’s actual real dance at a professional level. I’m thinking about that because it combines travel with what I want to do. I’d love to see more parts of the world and the contracts are usually just six months so after six months, if I don’t want to do it anymore then I don’t have to, and if I do I can go to another ship.”
Popping the Amherst bubble
Apart from Amherst Dance, Gallegos confesses that he hasn’t been an active member in many on-campus groups because most of his time has been spent performing with various companies throughout the Five College area. However, Gallegos considers himself a “peripheral” member of many groups on campus.
“I may not be necessarily completely active in a group,” explained Gallegos, “but if they need help with something I’ll help out, or if they have an event I’ll try to show up. For instance, I don’t do Health Educators, but I do the skits during orientation.” Gallegos is also a tour guide for the College, which has become something that he really enjoys. “It’s a PR position. I love giving tours. You show people buildings of course but you also just get to talk to them and give them your perspective. They don’t pay me enough to give a scripted reply or answer to every question, but I try to be candid and I think that people appreciate that,” said Gallegos.
When asked why he chose Amherst, Gallegos said that he explains to his tours that what he loves the most about Amherst is its small community and intimate setting. What he also loves, however, is that one has the opportunity to lose that by going to UMass and being anonymous. “There’s the Amherst bubble, yes,” Gallegos admitted, “but you can also jump into another bubble if you want.”
Academic life at Amherst
Gallegos majored in history at Amherst, and he really fell in love with the department. “I’ve really enjoyed the [department], and the classes that they’ve offered have all been really interesting with great professors,” he said. “I’ve really appreciated all of my professors. Being in a small school you have really close and expedient access to your professors which is fantastic. Visiting them or have them invite you over to their house for dinner, or even just TYPO, … it’s been really appreciative to not only see your professors as authority figures, but people who are active in your life and whom you can approach. They’re not big and scary; they’re there to help you. I think that all my professors make that very clear, and I think that’s something that Amherst fosters among the professors.”
Although Gallegos didn’t write a thesis, he thoroughly enjoyed his comprehensive exams. His assignment was to read “Guns, Germs, and Steel” by Jared Diamond and write an essay that was inclusive of the main points and devices the department wanted majors to have learned. Gallegos does not regret not writing a thesis because he knows that he would not have been able to perform to the extent that he did. “Dancing is more important at this point in my life,” said Gallegos. “That’s what I want to be doing right now, not writing a thesis.”
Bridging the continental divide
According to Gallegos’ professors, it has been the combination of his unique outlook on life and deep personal connection to history that have allowed him to excel in the department. His advisor, Professor of History and Women’s and Gender Studies Margaret Hunt, described Gallegos as “a careful and subtle thinker who always has a slightly unusual take on life.”
Gallegos has always felt that “you can’t escape history.” He is from Santa Fe, N.M., and the influence of history on his life has always piqued his interest in the subject. “In terms of where the Southwest is going in the future, so much of it is based on [its] history,” said Gallegos. “It’s such an interesting place in terms of geographical regions in the U.S. My family has lived in New Mexico since the Spanish colonized the area in the 1500s. The Spanish came and colonized New Mexico and in doing so colonized the Native Americans. My culture is Native American and Spanish, and it’s this interesting hybrid that’s very unique to the region as well.”
Deborah Cottrell, Professor of History at Smith College, explained, “Joe brought his New Mexico sensibilities to class with him every week, and always had great insights as we puzzled through the history of this rich and diverse region.”
Although Gallegos is excited to be returning home, he realizes it will be difficult to leave Amherst because the College has become his home. “Being here for four years … this becomes your home. Leaving your home anytime is really difficult,” he said. “What else is difficult is that you’ve been going to school since you’ve been five years old, and if you’re going into the real world it ends all of a sudden … it’s like your entire world … your life drops from the bottom of you. You go to school, and then you don’t. What? That to me is really bizarre.”
Even more bizarre, perhaps, will be Amherst College without Joe’s exuberant and delightful presence. He will be missed immensely.