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Life & Work with Shantel Ureña

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shantel Ureña.

Shantel “Shanti” Ureña is a Professional Dancer, Teaching Artist, Choreographer and Freestyler from Tampa, Florida..the 813! Being of Dominican and Venezuelan descent, Salsa, Merengue and Dominican Folk dance, Folklorico, we’re introduced to her at the age of two by her family. Shantel furthered her dance training and was enrolled in an academy where she trained in Ballet, Contemporary and Jazz for 15 years. By the age of 20, while recovering from an injury, she began a focus in Hip Hop culture.

This is where her training in Popping House began. It was within this same year that she made the decision to move to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a Professional Dance Artist. After a short year of living in LA, she was accepted into the “Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre” where she performed and taught as one of the core members of this company focusing on site-specific movement. Within a year, she was accepted as an international touring member of Contra-Tiempo’s Urban Latin Dance Theatre company. She spent a little under two years here developing her artistry and for the past few years has been diving into her own art as a dancer, choreographer, teacher, visual artist and battler. Shanti’s primary focus is to combine the un-spoken root, truth and history of Latinx folks while fusing this with movement. She blends Contemporary, Improvisation techniques, Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, Popping, House all into one. Creating an abstract style and unique way of moving, essentially living in the in between she likes to call her “Sancocho.”

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?
It has not but it has been worth it! Having graduated as a Medical Assistant, I quickly realized this was not what would fill me up and began pursuing Dance. After reflecting, I can see that it all started with the injury I received when I was 18. It was not until I was 23 that I was able to find out that I had dislocated my left hip and pinched my sciatica nerve on the left side of my back. This made it difficult to bend over or do any quick motions such as sitting and standing up. I had little motion in my left leg and going from being flexible to barely able to move some days affected my self-esteem, and as a result shifted my relationship with myself and with those around me. I decided not to tell people what I was experiencing. So many people, including some of my family, had vocalized their doubts to me about my move to LA, some in my abilities to be a successful dancer. The thing about an injury is you can learn how to overcompensate the pain and make it work. So, I would still dance and while I was dancing I felt free of it momentarily. I thought, perhaps most of it was in my head and I was being dramatic anyways, so I would push through. Until one day, before going on a tour, it felt as if though the bottom half of my body was hanging on by a thread.

After getting bodywork done, the Doctor told me I was close to losing feeling in my left leg permanently had this not been addressed. That was the scare I needed, since then I have taken care of my body, my temple and now three years later, I am injury-free. While navigating the injury and my self-esteem, there came the issue of Imposter Syndrome (a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”). Which also began my journey of anti-blackness education. When first entering the freestyle community, I thought in order to be a part I needed to talk, dress or act like I was someone I wasn’t. I was trying to be Black without the adversities that Black people experience. It was an issue. I was losing the essence of me and was trying so hard to keep up with my surroundings. After doing my own research, having uncomfortable conversations with people in my community, attending workshops, reading, stepping back and being honest with myself. I have come out of this with the knowing that for non-Black people specifically when we enter into these dance styles that come from Black people, Black culture, learning his/her/they story is the bare minimum. Being active with the information we learn is a part of the “training” and it honestly never stops.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
In relation to my career, I am most proud of this film I am working on, it will be finished by the end of this year! Prior to this, I had the opportunity to present my own Independent work at the Blaktinx festival and club Jete in 2019/2020. Here, I presented “Sancocho” which delves into his and her story of my Dominican heritage. In 2017, Contra-Tiempo was chosen to represent at a conference in Bulgaria. It was my first International tour and I cherish that memory and moment. In 2017-2018 I was apart of the choreographic process for building the show within Contra-Tiempo, “joyUS/justUS” that is still touring today. Outside of work, I am most proud of the woman I have become because of dance. I am most proud of my extended family I now have and special moments shared that have not been captured on cameras. I specialize in the storytelling aspect of freestyle, choreography and visual art. Through dance, I love to embody the his and her story I learn through my movement and visuals. My art is a definite reflection of my relationship to the times. Navigating sisterhood, womanhood, identity, community, family lineage, generational trauma, love, heritage and more. I am consistently refining what that is and how that can authentically feel and look. I have my own style and although the ability to dance within a group is important, it is equally as important to know what you have to offer to the group. This is something I never lose sight of and is also what sets me apart. Most likely known for closing my eyes, being barefoot and feeling the song with my neck or my arepas!

What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned along your journey?
Most important lesson has been Faith OVER Fear! There was so many moments I could’ve stopped and would’ve missed out on some of the greatest people and moments in my life. Believing more in myself always leads to much richer rewards than believing in my fears.

Contact Info:


Image Credits:

Photo of me in a deep second with Black shirt and navy blue pants looking up ||Ervin Arana Photography|| Photo of me upside down ||Robert Lim|| Photo of me in pink dress ||Darrel Friidom Dunn||

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