This week’s Dancer/Choreographer shout out goes to Christina De La Cruz. Christina has been dancing for as long as she can remember. Starting with traditional Hawaiian Hula dancing at the tender age of 3, most of her childhood was spent performing at community events and charity shows. She studied tap for 6 years at the Canadian Children’s Dance Theatre, eventually earning a scholarship in her final years. Her first introduction to Hip Hop dance was at the Cabbagetown Youth Centre, where she joined an elite crew of dancers from the St. Jamestown and Regent Park Area who entered many competitions in the GTA as well as traveling to Boston, Albany, Orlando and Rochester to compete against North America’s top teams. Graduating high school with cheerleading, regional hip hop titles and jazz experience under her belt, she joined the OIP Dance Company where she grew immensely. This allowed her to work with choreographers like Danny Davalos and Heather Leslie (artistic directors of OIP DC 2010), Rob Rich, Tre Armstrong, Mark Samuels, Jungle, Tuch, Leon Blackwood, Lenny de la Pena, Shabba-Doo, Romeo Casellas, Shameka Blake, and Scott Fordham. Since then, she has had the privilege to work with artists like Ludacris, Anjulie, Trish, Fito Blanco, Kitana, and Ray Robinson; recently performing on stages all over the GTA, Ottawa, New York City, Los Angeles and Cancun. Today, she enjoys working with well-known choreographers and talented dancers young and old. She considers a strong work ethic and a humble mentality two of dancer’s greatest tools for success in this industry.
Bio provided by Christina
Follow Christina on Twitter @Dela_Christina
Find out what Christina had to say in this week’s shout out…
Nikki: Do you remember the first time you started dancing?
Christina: I don’t remember exactly when, but I started by performing Hawaiian Hula in the Filipino “debut” circuit as early as three. My mom had this whole costume that she made by hand, grass skirt, little coconut bra… etc. My signature routine was “pearly shells”. I still know the song by heart!
Nikki: Do you remember the first song you choreographed to? (Or your earliest memory)
Christina: I remember learning a little of choreography from the Are You That Somebody video by Aaliyah (choreographed by Fatima Robinson) and when it got too hard to pick up, I would make up the little breaks between what I did know. Apparently I was a little remixer in training! But seriously, that was such an amazing video at the time, and showed edginess that other 90s artists weren’t really daring enough to try. The Latin-inspired break near the end made me want to be a salsa dancer!
Nikki: Your personal advice for dancers when it comes to free styling?
Christina: I’m probably the last person you should ask for advice when it comes to freestyling, because it’s something I’ve yet to wrap my brain around. Like any dancer who started in a more choreography-centric environment, I’ve got a long road ahead of me in learning my craft’s history and getting to know my body. The best thing I could say is to be you. Musicality and technique is very important and I’m trying to help advocate this running wave of dancers educating themselves, but sacrificing your personality (while dancing) at the cost of hitting every single beat or showing off your vast dance vocabulary doesn’t appeal to me as a spectator. The freestylers I look up to and admire are ones who can mix their fundamentals with the song at hand in an exciting way but still remain true to their own movement.
Nikki: Getting in the zone to choreograph, what does it take for you?
Christina: It really depends. Sometimes I work best with songs I’ve known for ages so I really understand the artistry behind the instrumental and lyrics. Other times, a song being completely new to me pushes me to move in ways I’m not used to and creates a much more interesting product. I really enjoy choreographing with my dancing-life-partner (HAHA) Lakna Edi (together we make Deluxe), because our movement styles are so different, that we can just bounce off each other’s vibes. Our creative process is definitely really special.
Nikki: Who are some of your biggest influences in the Dance industry?
Christina: Starting at a young age, I would look to 90s tap dancers, because that’s what I originally grew up doing. Savion Glover and Gregory Hines had such an effortlessly cool vibe to them. When I started learning about different genres of dance, strong powerful women like Martha Graham and Debbie Allen helped me understand that female dancers don’t have to be pretty and delicate and that we can be strong and athletic like men. Now my influences span from Toronto to half way across the world, from genre to genre. I don’t think I’ll ever have enough time to get into the dancers that inspire me and have inspired me in the past because I make it a point to learn from everyone I come across whether it is positive or negative.
Nikki: Name a Toronto Choreographer you enjoy working with and why?
Christina: I enjoy so many Toronto choreographers for so many reasons. Lenny de la Pena was my first exposure to hip hop dance, so I’ve got to thank him for helping me fall in love with the art form. Any time I work with Danny Davalos, he really teaches me about discipline as a dancer and pushes me to my limits which has helped me structure my mindset. Taking class with Leon Blackwood, Tatiana Parker and Tamina Pollack-Paris over the years has been incredible, just to start seeing difficult and complex choreography not as discouraging but more as a positive challenge. Scott Fordham has really helped me understand the professional aspect of being a dancer and the nature of the industry. It would be impossible to narrow it down to one choreographer because all of these people have shaped me in such different and unique ways.
Nikki: Name an Artist you enjoy working with and why? (Could be another Dancer, choreographer, musician etc. Doesn’t have to be from Toronto)
Christina: Recently I’ve developed an appreciation for working with artists who are still in the process of defining their style. There are obvious benefits from working with established artist who know what they want, but from choreographers on the come up like Leah Totten and Vanessa Li to break-through artists like Anjulie; there is something so special about being part of someone’s creative process and I feel lucky to have been part of these three ladies journeys to find themselves on their way to becoming the best artists they can be.
Nikki: Are you currently working on any projects?
Christina: Right now, I’m trying to work on myself in a lot of areas. I’m very blessed to have some super cool people around me that are helping me refine my craft from the ground up. I’m very much living by the mentality right now that instead of pursuing success, that if I strive to be at the top of my game hopefully success will pursue me.
Nikki: Qualities you think Toronto Dancers possess?
Christina: I believe that above everything we are hungry. We aren’t always afforded the same quality or quantity of work that dancers in other cities are, so we train to be able to deserve the few opportunities when they do arrive. I also believe we are unique, but not in the way dancers from every city have a different vibe. I think Toronto dancers are not just afraid to be different from LA or NY Dancers for example, but we are also not afraid to be different from each other. It’s taken me to travel a little bit to understand how lucky we are to have a community that embraces our differences the way Toronto does.
Nikki: Any advice for emerging dancers and choreographers working/training in Toronto?
Christina: Never lose your love for it! Take breaks when needed, travel, learn your history, eat well, and don’t take yourself too seriously. Know when to put your head down and work your ass off, and when to take a stand for what you’re worth.
THANK YOU CHRISTINA FOR SHARING YOUR LOVE & PASSION WITH T.D.O.T.
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