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A conversation with Natalia Sanchez
Who is Natalia Sanchez
Natalia Sanchez is a young ballet dancer and professional dance instructor pursuing her Master’s in Nutrition and Dietetics in an effort of becoming a registered dietician. She attended Orlando Ballet School from the age of 13 to 18. Natalia’s love for travel led her to audition with the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, where she ended up getting a contract and spent 2018 onboard traveling and dancing with them. Natalia began taking class at Pure Barre, Julington Creek in September 2017, where she later became an instructor.
My journey goes way back to when I first started ballet at the age of three. Then when I was five, me and my family, I moved to Jacksonville from Mississippi, where I was at the time. And so I started going to this place called Debbie’s Dance Company, and I was competing and I discovered my love for ballet and how much I loved it so much more than every other genre of dance that I was studying at the time. I had gone through summer intensives, just like other ballet dancers, and I at 13 decided that I wanted to take it a bit more seriously and create a career in ballet and start studying more rigorously. I left regular middle school and I moved from Jacksonville to Orlando to attend the Orlando Ballet School from the age of 13 to 18.
Throughout that time, I was basically training six days out of the week, the whole spiel, four to eight or 10 hours, depending on the time of the year and whatever we are doing at the time. And towards the end of it, I really felt stuck. I was feeling less and less inclined to step into the studio. The thing is I loved technique class, but I did not enjoy standing around in the back or in the corner to wait and basically observe rehearsals. That was the particular part of the ballet that I realized I did enjoy so much. And I was discovering that the older you get and the closer you get to finding yourself in a company role, you do more of that every day. You do less technique, less dancing, so to speak, especially when you’re first starting out in a company and more waiting and observing and marking in the background.
I was feeling less inspired, and it was after that summer after high school where I had attended two summer intensives: the Atlanta Ballet School Summer Intensive and the Pittsburgh Ballet School Summer Intensive. I left those summer intensives with two trainee spots in either one in either ballet company. It was a really pivotal point in my life because I was facing the decision of may this huge step towards becoming a ballet dancer or I could take a completely different route altogether because I had just finished high school and questions like college or whatever come up. I reached a point where I said, I don’t see myself really doing this anymore. I needed the experience to get myself out of my comfort zone in terms of personal development because I felt so sheltered from going to ballet school every day and basically living on my computer screen to do schoolwork for so many years.
I felt like I just hadn’t experienced a lot of things and I also hadn’t seen a lot of the world, which is something that I basically decided that I wanted to do at the age of 10. Ever since I learned of Europe and different cultures, I had always wanted to travel. I had kept in touch with a friend. She was basically dancing professionally with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines at the time that I was being faced with this big decision. And I was seeing that she was able to travel and dance and make a paycheck and not be in the studio. That was exactly what I was looking for at the time. I messaged her and she told me what to expect and all the different things. I think it was around August or September of 2017 that I went to Miami and auditioned for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and ended up getting the contract and spent later all of 2018 onboard and traveling and dancing with them. It was throughout this time in part particular that I was faced with a lot of situations where I had to grow as a person. The youngest of the cast. I was 19 at the time. I was dancing with dancers that were around like 27, 28, 29. And it was basically because the shows that we were doing in that ship were basically the most technically challenging of the fleet because I had to use point shoes. I actually had to dance and use turnout and things rather than pose on a stage.
I had to stay in shape for that. I think that was reflected in the types of dancers that were selected, of course, for that ship in particular. It was around that time that I was facing a lot of themes around self-worth in my life. Maybe not feeling worthy because I would have trouble in the studio one day and get flack about it from the coordinator of the shows. I had to really build a tough skin. I was basically dabbling in a bit of personal growth and self-development around the time that we were rehearsing in Miami in particular because I was being challenged so much every day. I found that I could not approach those difficulties with the same mindset that I had always had in myself.
My parents raised me to basically always really work hard for something that you love to be purposeful and to have your own back in every situation. With that background and having the parents that I grew up with, I was basically woke up to the fact that I needed to step up because this was something that I chose for myself. I turned down two traineeships to be there and to experience all that I wanted to experience. I turned that down to grow. I reminded myself, this is what I’m here to do. This was my purpose. And if I give up now or submit to a false negative narrative about my value, then I will not receive the lessons to learn from this experience. I will not grow and reach that next chapter that is so crucial for personal development.
I think it was truly that really made me wake up and have a switch come in my mind to seek outside sources other than what I was being provided at the time, which was basically criticism and corrections and you’re doing this wrong, you do it this way. Oh, that’s good. That’s good, but this could be better. That’s when I was listening to different podcasts on personal development. I came across the notion of positive affirmations and using that to develop a greater sense of connection with yourself and prepare you for whatever you may be experiencing in the few hours ahead or in your day. I had never heard of that before, like affirming to yourself that you are worthy and you can do things.
I started using that. I woke up one day. I knew that we had a very important rehearsal in front of one of the directors. I was like, I need to know that I’ve got my back and that I can do this. Like no matter what happens, everything will be fine. And I’m here for a reason. I was chosen to be here for a reason. And so I just needed a way to reaffirm that because I felt like I was going down a rabbit hole of fear and doubting my own worth. And so it just started that day. I did like a five-minute positive affirmation after I got up. And it was from that day on that I kept doing it. And that was the beginning of my self-love and personal development story. It started then and basically, my whole experience of that contract was shifted because I began doing that at this time. Building upon that, using meditation, and audible books and just listening to people about what they have to say about their lives and really being curious about other people and coming from a place of love and nonjudgment has gotten me to the place that I am today in personal growth and self-love.
You get out what you put in
I feel like I did grow up with that same mentality of if I get a bad spot in a ballet or a routine, I would basically blame it on outside sources. Like it’s because she’s better. Oh, it’s because she has better feet. Oh, it’s because they like her more. Oh, it’s because I don’t know, her family is giving money to the ballet, whatever excuse it may be in my mind. I would basically outsource my energy to all those different possible reasons as to why I’m not in the place that I want to be. It was until I made that of basically cultivating my own energy and my own willpower within myself to take everything in a more positive light that anything changed for me.
I feel like if more dancers knew this and would approach their work and their training from this place of it coming from you and you are in charge and you get out of this what you put in, I think every dancer would experience a positive change in whatever they feel that they are reaping from their experience in a ballet company, in a summer intensive, in their ballet school, in the parts that they’re given, etc., because I truly did notice that it was that shift in my mind that really catapulted me into self-worth and saying yes and saying that I can do this thing that they’re asking me to do, and if it doesn’t come today, it’ll come tomorrow. A setback now is not a setback for forever.
What I’m up to at the moment
At the moment, I’m a full-time college student at the University of North Florida here in Jacksonville. I am studying nutrition and dietetics through the didactic route. So at the end of it all, it will have been an internship, and I’ll get the RD after my name, registered dietician. I’m coming up on my third year, on three years teaching fitness at Pure Barre, at a local Pure Barre location in Jilington Creek. I actually discovered this barre studio when I was training and preparing for that audition in Miami. After that contract, I returned and discovered they needed trainers. I auditioned and been there ever since. And I also have a Spanish minor. I’m working towards that. That’s basically what I’m up to at the moment. And I recently started my podcast this past summer.
Discipline to self-care and success
A successful endpoint of that is ultimately feeling good and knowing that you did not get in the way of that or let anyone else influence that. It starts with sleep. As a dancer, you need sleep. You can’t go nights without sleep. Number two, waking up before whatever long day, it may be, however big the day may be, waking up from a place of being grounded in yourself and not letting whatever kind of projections you have onto whatever event or circumstance get in the way of you being grounded at the moment. I feel like if you’re able to not get ahead of yourself, you have all the power because a lot of times as a dancer, you can get nervous and place a lot of energy in an event that’s in a couple of hours or at the end of your day. And it really just ruins the energy and the kind of person that you are able to approach that event from.
When it comes to food, it’s really choosing how you want to feel during your rehearsals, how you want to feel at the end of your rehearsal day, how you want to be able to show up in your rehearsals from an energetic place, from a place of not feeling weighed down, not feeling bloated because that can be a downer. I think it’s really choosing those foods that you know feel good in your body.
For example, if you know you’re going to feel maybe jittery after coffee, for example, and you know that this event in your day, whatever it may be, like a rehearsal or an audition is going to make you nervous anyway, maybe not having the coffee and then opting for something else that will energize you like an overnight oatmeal. So basically taking into account how you want to feel and not letting a craving or a habit dictate what you do at that moment could possibly negatively influence the rest of your day as a dancer.
Setting up for success
Once you’ve had those long days, those long evenings in the theater or in the studio, in order to have the discipline, to show up for yourself in those moments and plan for maybe what you’re going to consume the next day and the food choices you make for dinner and things like that, I think it’s all about centering yourself for maybe a couple of minutes, maybe five minutes when you get home, just dropping in, breathing, and leaving everything you had to just go through outside of your apartment, outside of your house, wherever you are. Our brains are basically wired to constantly think about out whatever you’ve been doing all day, especially if it’s been a stressor because you just want to fix things. You want to try to get ahead of it and just make a situation better, but if you keep stressing yourself out with whatever happened throughout your day, throughout your evening, then not going to be able to show up for your food choices in the best way that you can.
From a stressed place, you make stressed decisions and you choose foods that are going to keep you stressed. Your body internally, it’s going to be inflamed. Your mind is not going to be as clear. So if you’re stressed, you may reach for a drive-through option for dinner. It’s all about coming from a place of emotional clarity and just leaving whatever you did outside your door and stepping into the present moment to be able to make a loving decision for your mind and for your body with the food choices you make after those long days.
“Leave it outside the door”
That comes from placing your worth and your value in your ability to execute, whatever it may be in the studio. I’ve experienced that so many times without even knowing it. Dancers, a lot of times, especially young dancers, they do not have that concept of awareness to recognize that they are not the situation. They have control over the situation. They determine what they experience rather than their experiences determining how they should feel about themselves. And I think it’s coming from that place that you are able to come back home and maybe take five or 10 minutes out of your evening before you start winding down and use that awareness to go in a journal and jot down what bothered you that day. What’s still in your mind that happened that day. What you feel like you could have done better and it just didn’t happen.
I feel like just letting that energy out on paper is a really good way that dancers can implement the exercise of using that awareness. So rather than just being aware that they had a bad day, exercising their autonomy over that so they can change their next day and make it more positive. I find that a lot of things are really clarified when you can write about them. That’s something that I’ve been using quite a bit. I feel like that would be a really great thing that dancers can implement into their evening or whenever they come back to avoid shoving those things aside and letting them grow bigger and bigger, and to rather recognize it at the moment, recognize that they are not the situation, and maybe open the book the next morning and see what happened the previous day and then come to those things from a new space, a clear mind from not having had gone through those things and really create the separation of themselves from whatever happened. And then looking through that lens of not being the situation to change that next day and make it more positive. Note-taking journaling is a great way to release that energy without letting it fester inside of you and get worse for the day to come.
Corrections on the chalkboard
This makes me think of the fact that the student, the ballet dancer basically is left to their own devices to perceive that correction in whatever shape or form their minds may perceive it to be as the teacher might have just wrote down a correction and maybe perceived it as like a minor thing. Maybe the dancer might take it as this huge big deal, or like we’ve been talking about place their worth on this correction, diminishing their value, their sense of self-worth. And if only the teacher could have come up to them and had that conversation and been like, Hey, coming from a place of love here, this is just something that I noticed. This does not at all influence what I think of you. You are capable of making this little change here, but I just felt like there was truly a disconnect in that practice and just writing down corrections and just leaving the dancer to their own devices, to make whatever they make of it.
Where to find me
The_n.a.t.i._podcast on Instagram. If you’re kind of curious about my personal life, it’s nati_sanchezz if you want to see my Instagram there. I’m basically hanging out at Pure Barre quite a lot on my computer quite a lot doing my studies. What’s next? I am trying to see how another summer in Spain might play out. I made that promise to myself this past summer realizing that it’s really my happy place. Spain is my happy place, and I love being able to practice Spanish every day and feel like I’m immersed in my roots in that sense. I am currently trying to see how that might pan out. Things are always changing in the world. Things might change, but I know that that is a place that I need to return to in the near future. Anything else that’s next, exams, the new year, keeping, keeping on growing, growing a podcast, and taking steps forward in my life towards more positive versions of myself.
Advice to 16-year-old me
I would tell myself that I am beautiful. Growing up, I had so many false perceptions of myself. Even after my contract with Royal Caribbean, I had a nose job. I had a rhinoplasty. My nose used to look a bit different. I based a lot of my worth on facial beauty at the age of 16. I felt very disconnected from myself because I didn’t feel at the moment that my outward expression of myself was truly an expression of who I knew I wanted to be. I felt like my perception around my looks basically defined the person that I should be and how I can show up in my life and what I’m worthy of. I think that as a 16-year old, I would definitely tell myself that I’m beautiful no matter what I look like. I would also tell myself that I don’t need to beat myself up and work so hard to do what I can already innately do in ballet. And to stop comparing myself. There’s a lot of things. Stop comparing myself is a really good one.
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