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Life & Work with Celeste Lanuza

Today we’d like to introduce you to Celeste Lanuza.

Hi Celeste, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I was born into a family of performing artists and educators. I was going to play music and dance whether I kept it up for the rest of my life or not. Unlike most families, my household discouraged playing outside and required daily performing arts in the household. (I still would go running with our dog and bike riding around the neighborhood before they got home!) As a child, I would perform for every guest that walked in playing every song I knew by memory on the piano. So naturally, when guests weren’t over, I would write plays, stories, create magazines, and then of course perform musical reviews with my cousins as we imagined we were performing in front of thousands. Every Saturday morning there was Mexican Folkloric and flamenco in our homemade dance studio in the garage. Coming from a family of immigrants who dealt with barriers in finishing elementary, middle, high school, or college, school was also going to be a priority whether I was the best student or not, especially because my parents were both grads.

Thankfully, I fell in love with the arts as a kid and at the age of 6. I grew up performing in Spanish restaurants and events with my family dancing and singing while teaching in recreation centers/local studios and training privately in classical piano and dance. At the age of 11, my parents enrolled me in a school that would change my life and I left the ballet academy because this was getting expensive and I witnessed young girls with eating disorders. I auditioned for an academy where I could gain the biggest joy of my life. Passion for the arts. I never worked a job that was out of the arts because ever since I can remember I have continually been so ingrained in the arts and fought to build the reality of being immersed around a culture that inspires my work. After attending a Spanish immersion elementary school, I went to a creative and performing arts middle and high school and then graduated from the University of the Arts in Philly with a BFA in Dance and Musical Theater Performance where I was under an Artist Grant and earned a living flamenco and belly dancing in restaurants while teaching dance and private piano. A stand-out memory is working late nights leaving my roommates right before the party would begin and ending at 2am quickly walking the streets of south Philly with a bag of cash because I didn’t want to waste money on a cab. I attended college at 17 and finished in three years then instantly began performing professionally eight shows a week in professional dance and musical theater productions.

I then earned a full scholarship to earn my MFA at the University of California Irvine in Choreography where I was mentored by dance legend Donald McKayle and music extraordinaire Norman Beede. My creative work began to have an authentic individuality that was so visceral for me at this time in my life. It led me to tour internationally to Malaysia, Indonesia, Canada, Mexico, Jamaica, China, Romania, etc., upon graduation as a singer, dancer, keyboardist, choreographer, and master instructor. Coming to LA for a little over a year after, I produced my original work with my dance company Celeste Lanuza Dance Theater and band ¡SiVa! where I began to view the potential future for this path as a creative. Upon gaining my professional union status as a performing artist and a horrible crash which totaled my car led to a move to NYC that I had wanted for a few years at that point. I had a desire for newness in creative expression and exploration and decided to head back to the east coast to fully focus on my creative art and life as a performer. Just three months into being in the city I found myself performing full-time in and out of town soon after not being able to accept the broadway tour On Your Feet because so much was happening at once. In NYC I also continued producing my art as a writer, singer-songwriter, choreographer, and worked professionally as a dancer on TV, actress in top theater and opera companies, a director, as a singer for corporate events, and then during COVID as a professor at esteemed universities. While the pandemic shut a door of continuing on a television talent show as a semi finalist it also reopened the door of possibilities with higher education and I was excited to rejoin the Ph.D. Low Residency program that I had deferred from for four years. Attaining the highest level of education has always been a dream of mine because I want to serve as an advocate and role model for Latinas in the USA who constantly face the realities of being underpaid and overworked.

Now I am a PhD Candidate where I continue a Low Residency status so I can keep flourishing my professional work as a performer, choreographer, singer, music composer, and college professor. I am currently in the midst of building collaborative works to produce soon this year, teaching at the Shonda Rhimes Performing Arts Center at Debbie Allen’s Academy and at Glendale College, most recently at Cal State University, all the while continuing my school work, creating music and dance works. Last fall I closed a production at the La Jolla Playhouse and was commissioned to write music with my dad for the Chicano Park Grand Museum. Here in LA this last year I spoke at the University of Southern California Women’s Leadership Conference and have had my short film selected for the International Film Festival. I have found that I thrive more authentically when I am juggling multiple tasks. I am very grateful for the opportunity to finish my Doctoral work next summer (2024) and attaining a scholarship after challenging the norm of finishing in 6-8 years, thus changing the narrative of completing in four years. Through my music endeavors, I am beyond blessed to have my dad who is also a pro pianist with continued years in the industry as my musical partner. Working alongside professionals in the industry and in higher education while living in the mecca of downtown LA all continue to exist because of the team I have surrounding and supporting me.

As I continue to perform professionally as an actress, singer, and dancer, I am now more selective of the work I participate in as my creative visions evolve and the artistic dedication of those in my circle aligns with the deep passion I have for my craft. Some exciting news is a short film I choreographed called Huella currently on Amazon Prime that also went to Tribeca, Sundance, Aspen Film Festival, and Los Angeles Latino International Festival among others has recently been selected by Sundance for a fellowship to create a script for a full-length feature! I am also working on new music that specifically speaks to the Latiné experience which stands alongside my scholarly work and will be released sometime next year. February of this year was exciting with an event I shared my original music and choreography at the Wallis Performing Arts Center in Beverly Hills, performing my dance theater work accompanied by my original music at the Brockus Project Studies and gaining reviews from one of LA’s top critics with the LA Dance Chronicle, performing in NYC at the Brooklyn Monarch and becoming an Award Honoree by Broadway’s Luis Salgado having access to attaining the Award Honoree which not only was accompanied by honorary funding but serves as a platform to continue building with this industry while going beyond to inspire and lead the Latiné community.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
As a Latinx female growing up learning English as a second language and dealing with a horrible stuttering issue while scoliosis made many dance movements awkward, I faced much adversity as a child constantly getting made fun of when I was asked to read out loud or present especially because I faced these challenges during elementary and middle school. Insecurities with my public speaking served as a segue to begin singing and acting where I could overcome the fear of being on a stage in front of others. I grew up as a dancer in ballet and started having issues with bulimia while later developing shame of my body due to domestic harassment I had dealt with in high school and college. Dance has acted as a tool to empower me as a young lady to step back into my body with pride and reclaim my self-worth. As an active artist and creative, I have spent much time on the road touring internationally and nationally which fulfilled dreams of mine and also put stresses on my personal life as well as limitations on family time.

Living in bags came with many challenges that made me grow immensely as the individual I am today. Something I learned right away when I dove into making deeper efforts to bring my creative work to life was gaining insight of what the word producer meant. Playing multiple roles of publicist, manager, bookkeeping, director, choreographer, band leader, videographer, performer, music composer, music director, etc. took a toll on my health and previously resulted in anxiety attacks and er visits. Putting my physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual health first now brings so much life to my work because I am able to listen to what needs to be done and what can be placed on hold. The pressures of social media, having the funding for your work, the ideal connections to get the work out there have definitely been hurdles I’ve had to jump over. But all in all, I have always enjoyed jumping through obstacles and proving to myself that I can do anything.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?

I am a Ph.D. Candidate focusing on the politics of representation in performance of Latinas in the entertainment industry. I am also a singer-songwriter who works as a freelance choreographer, dancer, and actress in the entertainment industry, as well as a professor in higher ed. I specialize in collaborating with artists of diverse disciplines to put on an unforgettable show all the while bringing social justice to the forefront through my creative work. I am most proud of being a believer of the miracles that God has brought into my life and continue to be led through faith, prayer, discipline, and work ethic in every step I take. As a Latina-educated individual who as a child struggled during academics in school, I found my voice through the performing arts and have had a life that has saved me from failure, doubt, and insecurity. I’ve heard people call me a renaissance woman and jack of all trades. I have recently finished writing several songs focused on the Chicané reality and Chicano Park trajectory and will be performing these original new songs at the San Diego Latino Film Festival this March and guesting at several universities!

I also thank God for the opportunity to make a living doing what I love, previously collaborating with data scientists through arts collaborations for stories in the magazine Root & STEM, being featured in Dance Teacher Magazine as restaging classic modern dance work, doing outreach all throughout my youth into my current adult life in Mexico and southern California and gaining positive reviews on Broadway world for productions that moved my soul. All of these experiences inspire me to keep going. Balancing creative musical collaborations, doctoral work, life on the road performing, training in martial arts with previous Bruce Lee instructor here in LA, and studio time while being a professor in higher education, are a few assets that I would say set me apart. I continue to be humbled with so much from also being honored with awards here as an actress in theater, a previous LA Music Award Nominee, film choreographer recently in the film Huella on Amazon Prime, NPR Tiny Desk Contest featured Latinx Singer-Songwriter, and So Cal active music composer and dancer is a blessing I do not take lightly.

How can people work with you, collaborate with you or support you?
I want to keep building creative works with organizations in LA that believe in the power of the performing arts and education, especially for the female Latina population. I seek opportunities to continue producing work in unconventional spaces that make art accessible to all ages and demographics, particularly underserved communities that support narrative works which speak directly to the Latiné experience. I am always more than happy to collaborate with artists in the city who are energized by live original music, working with artists of all ages and backgrounds, and believe in community. My band and dance company are quite diverse and this truly represents the philosophy I have that arts should be accessible to all.

I also have a Latiné musical that I have co-written with my family called the Desert Rose that would be exciting to produce here in LA. Calling all performing arts sponsors, donors, producers, and lovers for support in bringing to life underrepresented stories and narratives through live unapologetic art that is rooted in ancestral pride. My desire is to have a significant impact on reclaiming the visibility of Latina expressivity beyond monolithic limited tropes through my scholarly work, life as a professor, musician, choreographer, actress, and professional dancer. For a feel-good dance, slow melodic ballad, and eclectic musical vibes take a listen to my music on Spotify under Celeste Lanuza and follow my YouTube channel and Instagram @senoritaarranca

Contact Info:

Image Credits
LA-based Latina photographers Farah Sosa, Bill Cameron, Ernie Tyler, NYC-based Curtis and Cort Photography, Skye Schmidt, and Rich Soublet

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