Today we’d like to introduce you to Lauren Manzano.
Lauren, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My journey into dance has not been the most conventional–I went from working a couple of corporate positions while learning dance as a hobby.
I did not grow up taking dance classes. In fact, I was quite the awkward and uncoordinated dancer. I spent the majority of my childhood as a martial artist. By the time I was thirteen, I was already a 3rd-degree black belt in Taekwondo, teaching classes, a regional gold medalist fighter, and a referee. Dancing was the furthest thing from my mind.
When I attended UC Irvine, I decided to give “belly dancing” a try–as a cross-training to me being on the UCI Taekwondo competition sparring team as a Taekwondo Master and 4th-degree black belt. It was probably one of the most awkward experiences of my life! The idea of femininity in movement was a foreign concept. I struggled for about five months until I “got it”.
Fast forward a few years and I stumbled into a pole dancing class–and I was hooked! Pole dancing was the perfect marriage of my skillset: the strength and athleticism of martial arts with the innate sensuality of belly dance. I soon discovered there were pole dancing competitions and I never looked back. At this time, I have competed seven times, medaled six times regionally and nationally, taught in the LA/OC areas and in Spain and Argentina. I also judge pole dance competitions and coach students to compete.
Great, 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?
I don’t think anyone has a smooth road–especially when pursuing anything artistic. Not only do I have to contend with my internal competitive nature and the new experience of anxiety (new to me) from a brain injury, I am bombarded with messages of “immortality” regarding my business. I have had extended family decry me as a “whore” for being a pole dancer (my immediate family, including my Mexican father and grandfather are some of my biggest supporters) and I’ve been sidelined by debilitating injuries such as chronic tendonitis (old fighting injury) and the aforementioned brain injury. People have attempted to blackmail me for money and I’ve invested both an extensive amount of time and money in other ventures to see $0 in return. I’ve been accused of some unfounded things that have shaken me to my core. And yet, I’m still here.
We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I am currently a dance and fitness teacher with a private coaching business. I teach Belly Dance/Middle Eastern Dance at UC Irvine and am the advisor of the on-campus performance troupe, the Belly Danceaters @ UCI. I have weekly pole dance classes in Pomona, Chino Hills, and private classes in Downtown LA. I teach women’s self-defense classes around SoCal and I’ve partnered with X-Pole, one of the worldwide leaders in pole and aerial fitness apparatuses, to offer no-cost Self-Defense for Dancers workshops.
What sets me apart is the level of experience I have in teaching movement (17 years with students ranging from age 4 to 75) and the varied backgrounds I have (martial arts, belly dance, and pole). This allows me to tailor my teaching method to my students based on their learning style and level. I also incorporate the flow and wave of belly dance with the intensity of Taekwondo to create my unique style of movement and performance.
What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
The proudest moment of my career so far was my comeback post-brain injury. When I suffered my brain injury, I dropped out of a competition (my first time ever doing so), quit my career as a Realtor (I couldn’t handle the stress due to my healing brain), and questioned almost every aspect of my life. But over a year and a half, I was able to fall back in love with dance, train the hardest I ever had, and compete the following year, taking 2nd place at Regionals and then 1st at Nationals in 2017.
- Website: laurenmanzano.com
- Phone: 909-964-5032
- Email: Lauren.L.Manzano@gmail.com
- Instagram: laurenlmanzano
Brian J Bombarda, Alloy Images, Jesus Escuerdo