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!