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Conversations with Cynthia Hernandez

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cynthia Hernandez.

Hi Cynthia, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
I am a Mexican-American, I also identify as a Chicana. Both of my parents migrated here from Guadalajara, Jalisco Mexico. I was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, specifically Pacoima. I was in the sixth grade when I met Jackie “Miss Funk” Lopez, at the time she was my middle school dance teacher. That is when I first learned about Hip Hop as a culture. However, music and dance were always a part of my life. Growing up in a Mexican household, I was always going to family parties where the music would be blasting, and my family would be dancing into long hours of the night. I remember waking up on Sunday mornings to my mom playing cumbias very loudly, that was our que to get up and start cleaning, but these were also the moments where my mom would teach me how to dance to Spanish music.

With a mop in her hand, she’d show me how to do the lavadora (the washing machine) along with other basic cumbia and merengue steps. She would say, “it’s all in the hips”. I’m very grateful to have been raised in such a rich culture. I think that’s why when I started to learn about Hip Hop and Streetdance it felt so familiar. It was more than the cool dance moves, but the culture as a whole that felt like home to me. I was instantly intrigued. Miss Funk was so passionate about this dance and art form, I felt it every time she taught. Not only did I want to learn more about Hip Hop and Streetdance, but I wanted to learn it from her. Through her, I met my now director, Leigh “Breeze-Lee” Foaad and I attended Versa-Style’s Friday Night Community Classes. Leigh and Jackie would teach the classes every week and I just kept showing up. Fast forward three years later, 2009, Jackie and Leigh asked me to join their junior company, Versa-Style Next Generation. I trained with VSNG for a couple of years and had some amazing opportunities to perform and travel.

In 2014, I was asked to join Versa-Style Dance Company (the touring company). I started dancing and training professionally with some of the folks that I looked up to when I was in VSNG, it was all coming full circle. I was blessed to perform and travel to places like New York, Iowa, Oregon, I did a three week and 5city tour in Alaska. And recently, in Spring 2018 I became the School Programs Coordinator for Versa-Style. In this position, I get to plan and organize visits to schools in the Los Angeles area so students who come from similar neighborhoods as me can experience what I did when I first saw Versa-Style on stage. All because of dance, I have been able to travel and do what I love, but most importantly I have been given the opportunity and responsibility to share my love and passion for this art form with the next generation.

Dance has provided some wonderful opportunities for me, but what I cherish the most is the family that I found along the way. I have my immediate family who have all been so supportive of me and my journey in this dance, and then I have my chosen family and those are the people I choose to surround myself with and continue to push and grow in this dance and culture with. They have not only inspired me to become the artist that I am today, but they’ve helped me grow into the individual that I am becoming.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Growing up, I didn’t have the most stable home. When my parents divorced, we sold our home, the one I lived in till I was ten. We never really had a stable home after that. My dad, brother, sister and I moved from one converted garage to another. I never knew how much not having a stable home could affect me emotionally and mentally. I’m still so very grateful for what I did have- I know it could’ve been a lot worse. That’s why I think I clicked so well to Hip Hop dance and culture. I had to find my own peace and find my own stability elsewhere. With my mom living in Palmdale and my dad not being around as much as I needed him to, I found a home with this art. It allowed me to express myself and most importantly it created a safe space. Whenever I found my surroundings changing, I always knew that I could go to dance because that always felt the same- safe, loving and freeing.

I think that’s also why I respected and admired my dance family so much because while things at home were…uneasy, I knew I had a family who would support and uplift me through it all without them even knowing. I still have so much to work on because of this. Childhood trauma is real. I find myself getting triggered and reacting to things that remind me of what I experienced coming from a broken home. But everyday I feel I’m getting closer to the inner child in me. And I’m learning that she is afraid of a lot of things- but I’m working on healing them. I think one thing I’ve really been enjoying about this process is, now that I’m older, my movement has evolved, but so has my mindset. I now understand that the way my body reacts to the music, and the way it moves, is my resilience. The sweat is like holy water to my battle scars.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
As a Principal Dancer in Versa-Style, my responsibilities include keeping up with my training outside of rehearsals and performing/touring with VS. Most recently, I’ve been diving into the dance style, waving. It has allowed me to push my creative side in ways that I hadn’t before, but it’s also been a bridge in finding the connections in other styles I enjoy. With this, I’ve been able to really find and project my voice with this dance. I have really been enjoying finding different ways to tell my story through my movement. This is the exciting part, being on stage, when I have a moment to freestyle and represent myself in the moment, I can truly tell my story to the audience and hope that just one person can resonate with it.

Being a Principal Dancer with Versa-Style, I’ve learned the difference between dancing in a battle to dancing on a stage and doing concert dance. There’s always a message we are trying to convey and oftentimes, my directors, Jackie & Leigh will give us their perspective on the message, but it is up to us to tell it through our own lens when we are on stage. We haven’t been able to perform recently because of COVID-19, but I am so excited to get back on stage and simply share not just mine but our stories. You don’t often see black and brown bodies on stage, I take a lot of pride in being part of a group that reflects the diversity of Los Angeles.

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Image Credits

George Simian

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