Today we’d like to introduce you to Erika Soto.
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Erika. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I suppose this particular story starts with me leaving Texas at the age of eighteen to study dance theatre in Los Angeles, California. I had begun dancing at the age of three and quickly made it my “lifeline,” only showing interest in immersing myself in that craft above everything else. However, as I continued to grow up, I found myself beginning to question social norms and conditioning that had been implemented in me from a very early age. I started asking questions that left people flummoxed and made me look questionable in my small, conservative community. I was reading books that were “banned” due to plots covering profound political subjects and getting side-eye for doing so. I began choreographing pieces based off of these political subjects and finally found what dance really was for me: a voice. I was learning more and more every day that the reality given to me was not, in fact, the only one I had to experience and that the tools I’ve been given are to be used to break free. At the time, I was eager to finally leave a small town with a “small-town mentality” and sought out to experience something bigger. So I did.
Unfortunately, going to school for dance wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. At least not for me. After three semesters at said school, I had grown severely unhappy, felt the most disconnected from dance I’d ever felt in my life and decided it was best for me to drop out. At the time, my decision felt completely disastrous. Like I had failed my family, my kid self, and above all: my future. I felt weak. Like I wasn’t equipped. I cried for what felt like weeks, blaming myself for almost everything. But in the midst of all that heartache, I was beginning to learn something important about myself. I didn’t and couldn’t learn an art meant to liberate me in an environment that consistently conditioned and groomed me to be something I’m clearly not. Now, I’m not at all saying that going to school is to be frowned upon (clearly). For some, it’s exactly what they needed in their life. But the fact of the matter was my relationship with dance was at stake and I needed to go a different direction. I immediately sought out solid mentorship in the dance industry.
Completely and blindly jumping into it, knowing I had nothing to lose at that point. It was shortly after, I found myself attending IDA (International Dance Academy) Hollywood’s certificate program in 2015 and spent fifteen weeks training under teachers who later ended up playing important and impactful roles in my life. They completely prepared me for a career in the dance industry and encouraged me to always show up for myself and to BE MYSELF. After I graduated, I was hired as a work-study at IDA and got the opportunity of a lifetime to take advantage of free training in exchange for work at the studio. I found myself spending HOURS at the studio taking class, training, studying and falling back in love with why I began in the first place. It was at IDA that I found and joined my first professional contemporary dance company. It was there I was offered opportunities to assist choreographers, subclasses and build relationships with some pretty incredible dancers, choreographers and humans alike. I actually ended up taking the certificate course a second time in an attempt to deepen my journey.
The wheels kept turning from that point forward. My relationship with dance felt solidified once again. I had finally entered a point in my life where I was actually booking jobs as a dancer and creating a living from it. Something I had once deemed impossible for me to achieve. I am now training under ImmaBreathe which is the contemporary branch of ImmaBeast, both under the direction of Wildabeast, Janelle Ginestra, MaryAnn Chavez and Monika Felice Smith and have had the opportunity to dance in the most astounding countries, cities and stages under the direction of some pretty incredible choreographers/artists.
Here’s the main plot twist. I ended up falling in love with something that’s creating an impact in my life just as big as dance has. Amidst my insane dance journey, I had altered almost everything in my life to create a more harmonious and natural balance in regards to the way I live. I went vegetarian in 2016, immersed myself in botanical studies and proudly chose to enter the California medical cannabis industry in 2018. It was all very unorthodox but not a surprise at all as I had spent a lot of time researching cannabis and botanics since a young age due to my mother being diagnosed with cancer. While she did survive, I found treatment completely unnatural and quite invasive on a human body. I am a firm believer that the greatest medicine comes from natural resources such as herbs, sunlight, a natural diet, exercise, and meditation. So I decided to commit myself to an industry that was filled with people seeking answers as well.
The cannabis industry has provided a safe haven, opportunities to utilize the skills I offer that were overlooked by others and has even helped me finance my dance training and invest more in my craft. I have learned more about biological studies, botanics, molecules, natural medicinal treatments and neurology in the past two years than I ever have in my life. I’ve witnessed and taken part of successful treatment studies for patients with cancer, schizophrenia, PTSD, arthritis, neuropathy, anxiety, depression and so much more on patients of ALL ages and of ALL walks of life. And yes, while cannabis has a much more recreational reputation, I now understand this was also in the stars for me. The history behind the plant, the resources this society could use from it, the medicine it provides, the pioneers that have paved the road for us to get here… it’s goes so deep. I feel incredibly lucky to have found something that I know will carry my health and dance career forward as I intend to merge the two to create natural remedies for all athletes alike.
Has it been a smooth road?
It’s been the furthest from smooth but every great adventure is filled to the brim with struggles. Kendrick Lamar said it best. “The key to success, it turns out, is actually failure.” I dropped out of college for crying out loud and I still sometimes struggle with not allowing that to weigh on me. Especially it happening in the dance industry. The comments were harsh and I know a lot of people were expecting me to give up but I didn’t. I know it’s all a result of social conditioning but I firmly believe that college right after high school isn’t for everyone. Eventually, I will go back. But when I’ve decided I want to.
And yes, while I feel like I’ve failed so many times, I also feel like I’ve succeeded so many more times and have used my “failures” as tools to grow. I began philosophizing my failures and dissected every experience to understand it better and utilize it towards success. I’ve decided to stop comparing my journey to the next humans’ as no two journies are ever the same. I’ve accepted that my story is different and will look different from others and there’s nothing in this world that elates me more. I definitely have to thank my family and friends who have stood by me through every crazy experience I’ve taken myself through. Without their support and belief in my ability to make the right choices for myself, I wouldn’t have accomplished or experienced everything that I have today.
I’m 23, living in Los Angeles, stable, I have a cat (lol), I get to wake up and do what I love to do every day with the biggest smile on my face because of it. I’ve gotten to dance for FINNEAS, Sam Fischer, Madison Rose, Netflix and Billboard. I’ve performed at the World Dance Congress and at the Capezio Ace Awards. I’ve traveled to different cities, countries and performed in historical theatres. I’ve directed, choreographed and visually designed on-camera projects for fashion companies and shows. I’ve been featured on nation television and several local news stations talking about cannabis. I’ve attended educational forums and conventions based around cannabis and have helped treat some incredible people who have taught and shared valuable lessons that I know I’ll carry with me forever. I’ve learned so much about natural medicine, the human body and it’s healing ways in such little time and I’ve even taken part of historical events like the opening of the very first legal cannabis cafe in America, where I got to educate and serve people cannabis to enjoy with their food. Pretty insane, right?
The only thing I worry about every day is how I can be better. How I can do better. How I can show the people who have placed their trust and belief in me what I can do for them in return as far as utilizing all my capabilities. I wish to also become a voice to those who are oppressed, especially now that I’m working in the cannabis industry. Dance is still and will always be my voice and I hope to bring attention to the elephant in the room regarding America’s essential use of cannabis but their refusal to deem it a natural medicine and their disregard for those who are wrongly incarcerated. This journey has only created a stronger foundation within me. I now listen and trust my gut that much more and have accepted that everything in this universe is perfectly timed. Just don’t give up. Keep pushing. Everything you want is out there and there will ALWAYS be a way to get there. I hope my story of “failing” makes you understand that you aren’t failing, you’re forever growing.
We’d love to hear more about your work.
As a dancer and a teacher, my goal is to always incorporate being human into my teaching. That means leaving the “cut-throat” attitude at the door, welcoming dancers as they are and providing a space for them to grow. Don’t get me wrong, they get TRAINED, but there’s something about approaching it from a place of love and acknowledgment that makes another feel as if they CAN grow. Over the past few years, I have tried my best to provide dance education and knowledge that has been passed down to me over to the next generation of dancers. Especially dancers in my hometown or places where they aren’t as exposed to commercial training as we are. I grew up having to leave my hometown to broaden my dance education and I want to provide access to that kind of education to where they don’t feel like they need to leave. BIG shout out to my hometown Laredo, Texas! Your dance industry is growing everyday and these kids are so incredibly lucky to have the teachers that they do now.
I’m currently plotting a way to merge my love for dance and cannabis! I’m diligently and meticulously studying molecules deriving from cannabis and different herbs involving different ratio blends of molecules. My goal is to create a line of products that can naturally treat athletes, dancers, performers and people who just love to be active alike by customizing a blend to what the person needs. I don’t remember the last time I needed to take any kind of pill, nor have I felt dependant on one either and that is a wonderful feeling that I want to share with those I love. So here’s to the future!
Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
Oh, Los Angeles. I love you so much but you have pushed me WAY out of my comfort zone. Which, I actually definitely needed so I shouldn’t even be complaining. Los Angeles has provided a space for me to constantly explore and find new treasures. I love experiencing new things and I feel like this city will never run out of little gems to find. I constantly live in a scavenger hunt state and you know what? It always keeps things interesting. The nature is extraordinary, the sun is everything, the accessibility to being vegetarian is so easy and natural. The art around the city keeps the brain going and the collective consciousness of this city, for the most part, makes it easy to just be myself. I can dance whenever I want, I can play in the snow and swim in the ocean within the same 24 hours and help your favorite actor with their cannabis order,
And like everything, duality is firmly present. Los Angeles has it’s prominently superficial side, which makes it hard for introverts like me to actually enjoy going out. I also pick up on other people’s energy very easily so I know where to insert myself and where to just avoid it altogether. But I adore you, Los Angeles. I adore everything this city has provided for me. The people I’ve met, the moments I’ve had at the top of mountains and/or rooftops contemplating my next move. Without this city, I wouldn’t have been able to be where I am today. So thank you, LA. I mean that.
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: @ufo.erika
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