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How dance helped to heal NM veteran

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Growing up, Román Baca often looked for outlets to express himself.

Ballet was the art form that cultivated his creativity.

Albuquerque native Román Baca during a tour in Fallujah. (Courtesy of Román Baca)

The Albuquerque native left to pursue dance on the East Coast. In 2001, he found himself wanting to do more to serve the community, so he enlisted in the Marines.

“I wanted to serve my country,” Baca said. “Since my family is from New Mexico and has a rich history in military service, it was the next step.”

After two tours in Fallujah during the Iraq War, Baca, like many other vets, came home ravaged by depression, anxiety and anger.

Unable to feel as if he could reintegrate into society, he went back to his first passion – ballet – as a way to cope.

He soon discovered that, through dance, he was able to “reprogram” himself and begin to heal.

Baca’s journey is told through the award-winning documentary, “Exit12: Moved by War,” which will stream at 10 a.m. Monday as part of a Memorial Day celebration online. The event is free, but registration is required at; search for “moved by war.”

Baca was inspired to start Exit12 – a New York-based dance company led by veterans and military families. Through dance and choreography, Exit12 tells stories about the effects of war – both to heal, and also to change the perceptions and stereotypes of the veteran community.

After the documentary, there will be a premiere of “Kiva,” a piece choreographed during Exit12’s New Mexico residency, along with a Q&A with the artists of Exit12.

Moderator for the Memorial Day event will be Rick Iannucci, retired U.S. marshal and former Green Beret, as well as Horses For Heroes-NM Inc. executive director and instructor.

Baca’s journey through dance and the military continues today.

He is a Fulbright Scholar studying in London. When he gets back to visit New Mexico, it’s to do projects within the community.

“New Mexico gave me the tools and the passion for this art form,” he said. “This is pushing me to help, impact and serve the community.”

Baca runs workshops in the U.S., the United Kingdom and Nigeria.

“To watch these people who have experienced these things express themselves through writing and movement, it’s incredible,” he said. “We started working within the military community to point out their resiliency, reintegration and self-affirmation. We knew we could empower them through movement.”

With the film, Baca hopes to inspire his New Mexico community. “I want to let them know that all the things you dream about are possible,” he said. “I want to inspire people to seek out resources.”

Baca says he built the piece “Kiva” with the people of New Mexico, with workshops at Western New Mexico University in Silver City.

“The work is deeply rooted in New Mexico and I hope it helps open peoples’ eyes,” he said. “We’re all humans and it’s through community that we gain strength.”

With the two pieces of art, he brings attention to the Native American journey within the military.

“We sometimes forget that Native people have served in a uniform they don’t recognize,” Baca said. “From Ira Hayes to the Navajo Code Talkers, we need to continue to shine a light on their service.”

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

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