Nataly Santiago: Dancing Her Way to the Top
Nineteen-year-old Nataly Santiago has already graced some of the world’s prestigious stages, performed alongside prominent celebrities, and made it to the finals of the most difficult dance competition in the world—and she’s only just beginning. The actress, dancer, and model—born in Queens, New York—has been featured in numerous films including Dilemma, Aleita, and Paul McCartney: Who Cares. Most recently, Santiago scored the part of Paloma, one of the leading roles in High Strung: Free Dance (in theaters October 11). She is also a member of numerous dance troupes including immaBEAST, Gen X, and Young Lions. One of her teams—Unity LA—competed on Season 3 of NBC’s World of Dance earlier this year, ultimately placing second after performing in the World Finals. Below, Santiago shares the details of her dance journey.
When did you first start dancing?
I began dancing at two years old at a local studio, taking ballet, jazz, and tap.
What about dance appealed to you the most?
At the very beginning, I wanted no part of it. I was the only girl in my family and was running around with all the boys, beating them up with baseball bats. I eventually began to enjoy dance when I found myself able to tell stories through my movement. I‘m someone who feels a lot, and it’s often difficult for me to express it in forms other than art. I fell in love with dance because I was—and still am—able to use it to express what I’m feeling and, in some way, share a little bit of who I am with the world.
Who are some dancers that inspire you and why?
In all honesty, I can write a book filled with inspiring dancers because there are so many. Some of the dancers that inspire me off of the top of my head are Danielle Polanco, Diana Matos, Amandamay Wilson, Elyssandra Quinones, Cat Cogliandro, Luz Remigio, Robert Green, Rob Bynes, Denzel Chisolm, Jonte Moaning, Noel Frias, and Jacob Dimenstein. The thing I love the most about these dancers is their authenticity. Of course, I admire their movement quality as well as their commitment to anything and everything they do, but they‘re all artists. It’s so evident that there is and will never be anyone like them. They all make me feel something every time I watch them.
What was the audition process like for High Strung: Free Dance?
The audition was a bit different for me. I submitted a self-tape and didn’t hear back for some time. The callback was actually done via Skype. I’d never done that before, so it was different and pretty nerve-wracking.
What was your favorite part about being on set?
Being able to work on this project with amazing, well-known choreographers and artists. Getting to work with Tyce Diorio, Desmond Richardson, and Phillip Chbeeb throughout the entire process was incredible. I admired both of them even before the movie because they are so unique. Getting to learn from them on a daily basis was definitely one of my favorite parts. Another thing I loved was getting to spend time with everyone, including the crew. Everyone in the room had the same goal and was working really hard, which made everyone in each department rise together. I also loved shouting “Quiet on set!” in Romanian right before the cameras rolled!
What was it like working with your castmates?
The best! I knew a couple of them already but enjoyed meeting everyone else and spending time with the cast. We really took the time to explore on our days off, and we ended up finding spots that only locals would know about, which was really fun. I also really enjoyed getting to work with the locals—I tried to absorb the Romanian culture and language as much as I could. Everyone was really fun to work with, which made the process a memorable one.
How did you first get involved with Unity LA?
I attended The Pulse On Tour, a dance convention, in 2012 and took classes with Tessandra Chavez, the founder of Unity LA. I loved her classes because I was always challenged mentally, physically, and emotionally, and I knew if I was being challenged in that way, I was growing as an artist. I remember she would say throughout the class that she only trains warriors, and I desperately wanted to be one of them. Luckily, she contacted me to ask if I’d be interested in being a part of Unity LA and performing on World of Dance. It was a surreal moment for me. I wanted to work with her since the first class of hers that I attended.
How does Unity LA differ from other dance crews?
Our authenticity. We are a diverse group of artists who have so much to say with Tessandra, our fearless leader, guiding us. We stay consistent with our truth and never stray from it, no matter what the circumstance is, which is why I believe the company and Tessandra have been respected for so many years. We are also incredibly diverse in terms of height, shapes, sizes, colors, preferences, and ideas; however, we always unite to tell stories through our movement.
What was your main goal in competing on World of Dance?
Unity LA’s main goal was to bring something to the WOD stage that has never been done before while remaining true to our authenticity. We prepared for a long time before competing on the show to ensure we were bringing quality art, and I really feel as though we left that on the stage.
What are your future plans?
This past summer, I worked with Janet Jackson on her “Metamorphosis” residency, which is something I’ve always dreamed of doing. I’m really grateful to be where I am. As far as what's to come after this, I’d love to be part of a world tour and pursue my acting career further. I eventually want to cross the bridge and be in movies and/or television. After graduating as a drama major from school, I developed a new passion, and I’m eager to dive into it.
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