Natali Rodriguez: Sabor Latino Assistant Choreographer

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Natali Rodriguez poses before she takes the stage with Sabor Latino at the UF Fashion X-Clusive show on Feb. 19. 

Natali Rodriguez, a freshman marketing major from Miami, Fla., has gone from the newbie to the assistant choreographer of Sabor Latino Dance Team in just one semester.

“But you can call me ‘Natu,’” she’ll say with a smile and a sassy Latin flair. “’Natali’ makes me think my mom is yelling at me or something.”

Rodriguez credits her mom for taking her to dance classes in her neighborhood clubhouse, despite her desires to play soccer instead.

“My mom forced me into dance,” she said.

Rodriguez graduated from the neighborhood clubhouse to Dancing INXS, a competitive studio in Miami, when she was 9 years old. There, dancing went from a hobby to the center of her life.

“I couldn’t go a day without dancing,” she said. “I was at my dance studio more than I was at home.”

Hundreds of rehearsals, conventions and performances later, Rodriguez was a senior in high school deciding where she would take her talents in the next phase of her life: college. There was something about UF that stood out to her, though she isn’t exactly sure what that was.

“Maybe it was that inner Gator inside me,” she said.

Years before she even began her application, Rodriguez knew that if she did go to UF, she would audition for Sabor Latino.

She remembers looking up to Tammy Tang, an older dancer at her studio, from the time she was a “mini.” Tang went on to attend UF and become the president of Sabor.

Rodriguez kept in touch with Tang through social media and watched her performances with Sabor on YouTube.

“I remember telling myself ‘If I ever go to college in Gainesville, I am joining this team,’” she said. “Tammy is the reason I am on Sabor”

When Rodriguez made the move to Gainesville to Miami, it was the first time she had moved since coming from Argentina when she was 5 years old. She was nervous to leave the place she loved, especially the family she had formed at her dance studio.

“It was so hard for me,” she said. “I would cry myself to sleep because I was so lonely.”

All of that changed when she joined Sabor Latino in August 2015. She was the only freshman that semester who made the cut.

“I used to think ‘I’m new here, they’re going to be expecting a lot from me.’”

Despite her reservations, Rodriguez found the home away from home she was looking for in a dance team.

“We really are a family,” she said. “And they have that Latin flavor that I’ve always had back home.”

Rodriguez said she applied to be the assistant choreographer before her first semester was over.

“This was me taking my next step in my dance career,” she said. “Now I get to dabble in all of the dances.”

Her teammates helped her transition into college, both on and off the stage.

She said her performance level has hugely improved, but she has seen an even bigger difference in how she views herself, thanks to motivation from her teammates.

“I had a low self esteem before coming to college,” she said. “I’ve become so much more confident in myself.”

From the token freshman to assistant choreographer, Rodriguez has come a long way in just one year, and she has no plans to slow down.

Check out Natu and her Sabor Latino teammates in their Spring 2016 promo video here!

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater comes to UF

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The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater takes its final bow after performing “Revelations.”

The usher directed me to my balcony seat in the Phillips Center, with a look of “you’d better hurry up,” at 7:34 p.m.

The show was about to begin.

Ominous voices reminded us to silence our cell phones and refrain from flash photography, but all I could see were images of the dancers taking their places behind the curtain. Figuratively see, of course.

I felt their head rolls, hand shakes, final stretches and final prayers. This was just one performance in their worldwide tour, but I knew firsthand that didn’t take away a minutia of the excitement that comes with performing for a live audience. In their case, a live audience who paid a good amount of money just to watch their talents unfold.

This was the first time I would be seeing the action, rather than being it. It made me anxious. I wanted to jump down from the balcony, learn the choreography, and dance alongside them. I was nervous about being a bystander.

That was until the curtain rose and the music began and the dancers began “Toccata,” their first dance of the night. The upbeat jazz music whisked them away into a series of spins, extensions, and glides across the stage. Their white-shirt-black-pants attire and their high-speed intricate choreography combined to evoke the feeling of a bustling New York City street. The men and women weaved around each other in perfect synchronicity, seemingly forgetting to breathe before performing the next series of movements.

An Adonis-and-Aphrodite-like pas de deux brought serenity to the entire performing arts center, reminding me of the moment after it rains. Following the duet was a group routine that put me in a trance. Its athleticism and artistry told such a compelling story, though I don’t know what that was.

After a brief intermission, it was the moment we had all been waiting for. It seemed as though the entire audience sat up in their chair, waiting for Mr. Alvin Ailey’s spirit to tell its story through the dancers. We were about to experience “Revelations.”

“Revelations” tells the story of the last book of the New Testament. We were transported to Judgment Day, Purgatory, Heaven, and Hell through the lighting effects, the African American Gospel music, and, most importantly, the dancers.

I was in the audience, but I felt like so much more than a bystander. I was moved by every lift, extension, and contraction. My eyes followed the subtle movements of the dancers’ hands during their final day.

Dancers of UF, don’t be afraid of the audience. Experiencing the movements of the most elite modern dance company in the entire world taught me that seeing dance from the audience makes you more than a dancer; it makes you an artist.

We are fortunate to go to a school that brings such iconic performances right to our doorstep, and we are missing out if we choose to forgo them because we would prefer to be on the stage.

Change your angle of observation, and watch what happens. Stay up-to-date on the next performances at the Phillips Center here.

 

Setting the Scene

Since I was three years old, I have been a dancer.

I came to the University of Florida in pursuit of the paramount “college experience” that my friends, high school teachers, and parents couldn’t stop talking about. Leaving behind the (insert name of fancy arts school here) acceptance letter, I decided to go for it, thinking my passion of dance would need to be set aside for academia.

That’s part of growing up, right?

Wrong. What I have found at the University of Florida is a community of dancers who refuse to sacrifice what they love just because they are focused on school. Where I thought I would find 50,000 Organic Chemistry students who are just too busy to worry about something like dance, I found a community.

I thought I was the only one in the in-between world of school and dance, but it turns out the University of Florida is full of students waiting for the next time they get to be in a dance studio, perfect their technique, or take the stage.

I was overwhelmed by the number of dance groups that I could audition for by my first week of freshman year. There were so many different styles that I wanted to continue practicing in college, and there were so many that I wanted to try for the first time.

That’s where you come in. If you are a new student at the University of Florida, or a senior for that matter, and you want to further your passion or try something new, I got your back.

Here are just some of the incredible dance groups we have on campus, and a little bit about what they offer to suit the dancer in you.

Dancin’ Gators

Whether you’ve never danced a day in your life or you are basically a Beyoncé back-up dancer, Dancin’ Gators could be the place for you. They are the only dance team on campus that does not hold auditions. Their goal is to bring together dancers of all different levels and styles.

Floridance 

The original student-run dance company holds master classes every week from ballet to hip-hop. If you want to try a little bit of everything, check out Floridance!

Extreme Dance Company 

Extreme can be a place for those new to dancing, and it can be a place for those ready for their Alvin Ailey Dance Company audition! They have different levels based on technique ability, and provide plenty of choreography opportunities for dancers who want to create their own movement.

Danza Dance Company

If you can break it down with a fierce hip-hop combination and finish with a triple pirouette into a side grande jeté, Danza is ready to see what you’ve got! They offer plenty of performance opportunities and teach tons of unique styles.

Stomp the Swamp

If you want to move your feet to the beat and advocate for Dancers Responding to AIDS, shuffle-ball-change over to Stomp the Swamp auditions! They are a rhythm tap dance team at UF who are ready to tap their way to the top.

Sabor Latino Dance Team 

The official dance team of the Hispanic Association brings the flare of Miami to the stages of Gainesville. If you can drop it like it’s hot and Salsa like the stars, check out Sabor Latino. They bring the fire to just about any event, from Gator Growl to VISA talent show.