Today we’d like to introduce you to Iliana Gravina.
Iliana, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I owe absolutely everything to my parents and my inability to sit still. When I was two years old, my parents signed me up for my first dance class. Since staying in one place for a period of time was practically impossible for me and I was already dancing on my own, there really was no questioning my parents decision in signing me up so early. From two all the way through my senior year of high school, I continued dancing at the same studio. Robin Horneff’s Performing Arts Center, turned Studio L after change of ownership, was my second home.
A majority of my life was spent in the studio, competing, or creating my own material. Studio L owners Kelly and Danielle Larkin knew the importance of versatility which led me to train in jazz, ballet, tap, contemporary, and hip hop. They’ve provided me with many opportunities and helped me develop my love for dance through classes, rehearsals, competitions, and many recitals.
My parents have always been my number one support system. We used to own a gym that had two studios of its own so when I wasn’t at Studio L, I would be at the gym creating, freestyling, and having private lessons. You couldn’t keep me away from a stereo. As I grew older, I became more involved with Studio L assisting, giving private lessons, and teaching my own classes at fifteen years old. My whole life revolved around dance so when my senior year of high school came, I knew I couldn’t just stop there. I continued my training as part of the dance team at the University of Cincinnati while studying in Communications and Public Relations. I was extremely fortunate because I was getting the best of both worlds, training with the 10- time world champion and 7-time national title winning dance team while on the path to receiving my degree. Although I absolutely loved my team, my school, and the relationships I was creating in Cincinnati, I felt like something was missing. It didn’t take very long for me to realize that I wanted to be doing something different than where I was headed. After my first semester, I decided I wasn’t going to go back to campus the next year. Before telling my parents about my future plans, I had to find a way that I would still graduate on time with the same university. Working with my counselor we created a schedule that allowed me to complete the rest of my courses online which led me to graduate a year early.
I spent the next year in my home state New Jersey saving because like every other broke college student, I had big plans but lacked the funds to achieve them. That year at home was tough but I kept working and was able to take the short train ride in and out of New York City for dance classes. A year later, I was in Los Angeles working two jobs, training, and being a full-time student. It wasn’t easy finding a way to stay afloat financially, finish school, and show as much attention to my passion as I wanted to, but I worked through it and kept going. I’m still going.
Three years later and I’m still in LA. I can happily say that I have more control over what is going on in my life. I graduated, I work with an amazing dance competition called Showstopper, I teach at a variety of studios in the US, work with musical artists, and I have more time than ever to focus on my craft. I’m working even harder now especially because I’m at a point in my life where I have a clearer idea of what I want to accomplish. And thanks to two of my mentors, Antoine Troupe and Kolanie Marks, and their incredible studio, KreativMndz Dance Academy, my goals are more attainable now than ever. The two have provided an inspiring, safe environment to train and be mentored by the best in the industry and I couldn’t be more grateful to have them in my corner. I’m also thankful that I get to spend my days in the studio training, enhancing my movement, creating visuals and projects, working with artists, and teaching the younger generation what I have learned thus far.
Has it been a smooth road?
Smooth, no! The most beautiful things in life are created in the harshest environments. What’s different about my career is how much time and how much of myself I invest in it. This all being my choice. Dance has always been how I defined myself. So, making a career out of that is something extremely vulnerable which makes the bumps in the road even more difficult. I’ve faced many obstacles in my life and although I may have not conquered them all with ease, it is how I’ve navigated through them and what I’ve learned from them that I am most proud of. My family has struggled financially, I’ve lost family members to accidents and old age, friends to suicide and mistakes. I’ve been knocked down time and time again from jobs and auditions. I even lost myself for some time.
One of my biggest struggles started during my senior year of high school. I was drugged and taken advantage of by a group of boys whom to this day, I still do not know the names of. It wasn’t until two years later that I was able to say this out loud and share with my family what happened to me. Carrying that sort of heaviness took a toll on my life and tainted my perception of myself. I share this to say that I’ve learned some of life’s most valuable lessons through this dark time. First, it is important to take time to reflect on your life and your mistakes in order to heal. Second, I will never let anyone else’s opinions or actions define me. And most importantly, I learned that my past has no power over me. I am a loving, genuine, valuable human being who deserves all the blessings that God has intended for me.
With this I continue life as a light, putting my heart into everything that I do. I am there for those who need me and those who aren’t aware of it yet. The industry is full of rejection which can negatively affect a person’s self-esteem. You begin to value other people’s opinions over your own and it becomes easy to lose your sense of worth. Going through what I have, I understand how easy it is to take other people’s opinions to heart or allow someone else’s actions to negatively impact you. I hope to help others see that they have control over their beliefs and reality. To help them obtain the courage to be their truest selves and share their gifts unapologetically.
There is so much beauty in this life, I refuse to settle for anything less no matter how difficult the battle.
We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
My career is always funny to explain. Breaking it down in simplest terms, I promote myself and my movement to communicate a story or highlight an artist or product depending on the job. I also teach other artists how to enhance their movement quality as well as their performance. Even though I spent a majority of my life as a competitive dancer trained in a variety of styles, hip hop is the one that resonates with me most. I’ve always had a connection with R&B and hip hop which led me to book jobs and work with artist who share the same passion for the culture.
Currently I am focusing on producing content for myself, other artists, and my students while continuing to train in classes to enhance my craft. During the COVID-19 stay at home order, major names in the industry have been providing live classes to keep dancers moving and spirits lifted. Even in this uncertain time, I’ve had the opportunity to train through social media platforms with professionals I wouldn’t always have the opportunity to train with. These artist whom I look up to have been extremely helpful in this time and inspired me to experiment with my own creativity, expanding my artistry.
Although there has been growth in this time and training has continued, I’m excited to share my work with others in environments that aren’t necessarily six feet apart. There’s just something different about creating in the same room as other individuals rather than through a screen. I feel proudest when I see other creatives bring my visuals to life. Being capable of sharing a story through movement is a gift and watching people perform my work or add their own interpretation to what I present to them is a beautiful experience. I am grateful to be able to share and teach online, but I am excited to get back into a more personal environment.
My reality has become doing what I love every day and sharing that with the world. I couldn’t ask for anything better.
You should know that even still, I consider myself a forever student. Keeping an open mind I am always looking to improve myself in all aspects of life, especially my craft. I found that I feel happiest when I play a role in somebody else’s joy. This is what I believe sets me apart from the rest. I’ve had the pleasure of dancing with artists in music videos and on television and even though I am proud of those moments, I put more value into the relationships made with the people themselves who I’ve helped achieve their goals and share their visions.
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Our city is a major hub for artists. Something that I admire about Los Angeles is the amount of people who move here from all over the world in hopes to accomplish something that is greater than themselves. It’s important to note that although there are endless opportunities here, there are also many distractions. I’ve been fortunate enough to have good-hearted, positive influences in my circle but for some it isn’t the same. There is an abundance of talent here which provides amazing training, especially if you’re looking to work with artists or be featured in films, but this isn’t easy. Being persistent and willing to put in the work will take you a long way.
If you are drawn to a certain location, I see no harm in giving it a try. Be patient with yourself, keep an open mind, and as cheesy as this sounds, listen to your conscious. You’ll know where you’re meant to be even if it takes some time to get there.
- Phone: 201-851-1126
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: @iligravina
Richard Radstone, Josh Quintero