My name is Shelby Colona. I was raised in Houston, Texas. I came to Ballet Hispánico in the fall of 2014 when I joined the second company, BHdos, and later became a member of the main company.
What experience, mentor, or teacher supported your passion for dance?
When I was seven, I auditioned at a local competition studio in my hometown. It was a long weekend of learning different combinations, across the floor exercises, and showing a one-minute solo I choreographed on myself. I was so excited because all the girls and one boy in my studio classes were auditioning as well. After the weekend was finished, they posted the results, as well as the level, on the door of the studio. I remember pulling up and seeing all my friends elated because they made it. When I walked up to the window, my name was not there. I was completely devastated and embarrassed. I held myself together, walked back to my mom’s car, and burst into tears. From that moment on, I was determined to try again.
I trained as hard as I could for a full year until the next audition. The time had finally come. More combinations, more across the floor exercises, and another one-minute choreographed solo. I felt more prepared than ever. Only this time was a little different. My sister was also a dancer and my mom convinced her to audition with me to boost my confidence in the room. Sunday evening came along and the three of us went to the studio. My stomach had butterflies. The thought of my sister and I being able to compete together made me so excited. My sister and I walked up to the window together and lo and behold, her name was there and mine was not. I cried tears all the way home and didn’t talk to my sister for a week. I was so upset and thought she could have taken my spot.
I decided I would audition another year. Dance is what I loved and I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by. I wanted and I needed to be a part of this group to prove to myself that I could do it. After my third audition, I finally made it—and I made it into the level with my friends. Whenever things get tough, I’m always reminded of that little girl who had so much passion that she would never give up on anything, no matter how many times she was denied.
When did you first know you wanted to dance?
The second I started dancing when I was three, I knew it was something really special. I knew I wanted to dance as long as I possibly could. When I was younger, I did not know anyone in my life who was a professional dancer or professional in any art form. I did not realize it could actually be a career. When I was entering high school and auditioned for The High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) in downtown Houston, I knew it was for life. I would do anything in my power to make sure I would become a professional dancer and “make it” in the dance world.
When and where was your first or favorite performance?
My first performance was my local dance recital when I was about three years old. I don’t really remember much except that there was an assistant in the wings doing the whole piece with us so no one forgot. I remember working so hard so I never had to look over at her and could do it on my own.
My favorite performance was performing Carmen.maquia by Gustavo Ramirez Sansano for a week in Scotland. It was a very exhausting week but filled with love and adrenaline. Each night felt so different, but always in a positive way. To be able to do the same piece every night for a week and find a new goal to focus on was challenging. However, when you dive your heart and soul into it the reward is meaningful.
Why did you choose to come to Ballet Hispánico?
This seems quite cliché, but I truly feel Ballet Hispánico chose me. As an Asian-American woman, when I was looking for companies to audition for, Ballet Hispánico seemed to be a far reach for me. I made up the answers in my head. I wasn’t Latin and I didn’t “fit the mold.” That could not be the place for me.
I had completed The Ailey School’s Certificate Program and went back to do some freelance work. While I was there, I ran into the former BHdos Rehearsal Director, Nicholas Villeneuve, who had mentioned to me that a BHdos audition was coming up next week. He said he would love to see me there. Before this run-in, the first time I met Nicholas and last time I saw him was at a summer intensive eight years before.
When I showed up to the audition, I changed my mind set as to why I would not be a good candidate for Ballet Hispánico. I wanted to dance and I loved the overall mission. Why couldn’t I be a part of the Latinx culture? I gave it my all and I got the job with the second company. After that, it was almost like perfect puzzle pieces. I had an opportunity to perform with the main company while still in BHdos. Then came the main company audition when I was offered an apprenticeship and things began to speed up. Before the next season started, I continued having opportunities to perform with the main company. I loved every piece of work we were doing, I loved all the people I was surrounded by, and I loved the environment and culture that filled every room. If I did not have that run-in, I’m not sure I would’ve ever auditioned for Ballet Hispánico based on what I thought they wanted. But here I am six years into the main company. Things don’t always happen as planned, but sometimes they come out better.
How do you see dance progressing as an art form and what impact do you feel you or your generation of dancers will have on the field of dance?
We have become a society that relies on technology for almost everything. I believe that gives dance and other art forms lots of pros and cons. Our generation has been able to bring dance to the rest of the world via social media and other platforms. Before, we relied on advertising and people physically coming to our shows. Thankfully, during this time, technology is thriving and has kept most dance companies and dancers continuing to grace the world with art and inspiration. Dance has been able to reach people who may or may not have had the opportunity to see or experience a dance performance. Dancers now rely so much on social media to self-promote and share. It is important to educate the world on who we are, how much work is put into our art form, and that being a professional dancer is a valid career.