Maria Fernandez Urbaez

  • DANMAR, flamenco, Maria Fernanda Urbaez, Venezuelan folkloric

Published April 21, 2020 on DanceTalks
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Andrea Cody:

Hello and welcome to Dance Talks. Today is April 18th, and my guest is Maria Fernandea Urbaez. She is an expert in Venezuelan and Flamenco dance and culture. She is an artistic director, dancer, choreographer, instructor and producer. Her company is DANMAR Arts and Dance Studio, and DANMAR Academy of Performing Arts. Maria, thank you for being a part of Dance Talks.

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

Hello, I’m very happy to be here. So let’s see how this goes.

Andrea Cody:

Sure! Let’s start by you just telling me about your life as a dancer. The whole story from the beginning, from when you were a child.

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

Okay. I kind of wrote this down too, so that I can’t go out of my line.

Let’s say that I’ve always been interested in dancing. According to friends, I was dancing since I was a stupid tiny little girl. I began dance and music. I was very interested in it, and according to my parents, I had a lot of talent for it and I had a passion for it.

I’m living in Venezuela back then. I started dancing when I was five or six years old. I did Flamenco, Ballet, Tap, Hip-Hop. I did Latin dances, folklore, but folklore was not my favorite at the time. I was young. I just wanted to do things that were hyper and fun, and jumping, jumping, jumping. Eventually, I started liking it more. I did a lot of gymnastics and sports, and different instruments, piano, cuatro. I did a little bit of harp, as well. So it was very interesting, but my favorite was always percussion. I was very into percussion.

I was doing all this in my sister’s room. My sister’s name is Daniela, and that’s where the name DANMAR comes from. So DAN from Daniela, and MAR from Maria. A lot of people think that that is actually my name. I just leave it like that. Hey Danmar, how are you? I just laugh and say, “Hey, I’m fine.” That name comes from my sister and my name.

I was dancing all this time. But then around 12 or 11 years old, I started having, I started noticing everyone dancing that they were super straight. And I started noticing that my back was kind of like twisted and like weird. I wouldn’t look the same as everyone else. Turns out that I had scoliosis. I had a very bad scoliosis, like the deviation that I had in my back was insane.

It got to the point where I needed surgery. So at 12 or 13 years old I do believe, I had my first surgery. And I say first because a year later, I had to have another surgery, cause the deviations kept going.

So during those two years were rough because I couldn’t really dance, and I had to be in complete rest mode for a whole year. That made me kind of hold back in the advancement, compared to my sister. She still kept going, and dancing, and here I felt like I was behind. That made me very insecure, because also in the dance world, you have to be able to be very flexible, to be able to contract, to expand, to hyper do these things.

I had two ruts in my back. They were placed around my back. So my back completely solidified. So there’s no way I can contract or do any actual movement with my spine. I felt very sad about it. I thought I was never going to be a dancer, and a lot of times I felt very, I guess, not motivated to keep on going.

Plus I started doing other things. I was like I became a rebel because I’m not going to dance dance. But deep inside when I heard music, I just wanted to dance, dance, dance. It was my thing here and there. And every time I was mad at somebody, I would dance. I would go to shows and dance.

At 15, my parents got transferred and moved to the USA. We moved first to Weston Florida, and there I was like, you know what, I love dancing. I just kept dancing. I started taking dances and I started just learning how to deal with my new body. I was like, you know what, I’m not gonna stop. This is what I like to do, and a lot of my teachers started actually being very surprised that I had two rods in my back, but I still danced the way I did. I still managed to just look at myself in the mirror for hours, in order to make my body look as if I was contracting but I wasn’t. I was just making an illusion.

And this made me feel very secure. I started gaining that confidence back and these teachers started noticing my passion for it. They started realizing that I really wanted to be a dancer, a team player, and they started noticing some kind of leadership. This is how they describe it, I’m not describing it myself. They were like, okay you have this leader personality within you and people in the classroom, they would say, “Okay, water break.”, or whatever they would call it, they would be like, “Hey Maria, so how was this thing? How was this and that?” So that started training me to want to actually dance more, and to start teaching, and I started noticing that I had a passion for teaching a lot, and that was actually very good at it. And I didn’t think … You know, sometimes I think that people think you’re a dancer, that doesn’t mean that you are a good teacher. Or if you’re a good teacher, doesn’t mean sometimes you’re the best dancer.

I felt very good with the dancing and the teaching, and the teaching inspired me to do this. They started to actually give me classes to cover for them, to start teaching little kids, and adults, whatever. By 15, I started teaching in my house. It got to the point where I was like, “Dad, I need a part. Where am I going to be? I cannot just be renting a place.” I was 15. I wasn’t gaining any money. I wasn’t going to spend it renting a place. So my parents used the living room. They put some wood, some mirrors. I’m telling you the room was busy. I mean it was just a tiny little room. It was amazing, because can you imagine at 15 years old I was teaching everyday. They came to two hours a day, 10 students per hour.

Andrea Cody:

And for our audience, can you tell me how big your room is?

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

I would say maybe what, like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8… Maybe 8 by 12. It was smaller than this. It was definitely smaller than this room right now. It was a tiny space. We had just moved there to that area, so it was just a tiny little apartment, kind of like a townhome. And it was great. I mean, I’m fifteen years old, I’m teaching two hours a day. I had maybe ten students per hour. I was charging $7 an hour. This, for me, my parents started seeing something like, “Hmm… this is interesting.” And I was only fifteen. I started managing money which was very interesting at the time.

I didn’t know. Thankfully I had a very great family. They were giving me everything I needed. But I started seeing some kind of future. I was like, “Hmm… this is very interesting.” But I still never thought that this was going to be my career, for like ever. In Venezuela, if you’re a musician or a dancer, or an actress, if I mean like, you’re the same. People sometimes will be like, “You’re going to die of hunger. You’re not going to make it. You need to be a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist, in order to make it.” And that’s then in Venezuela, you didn’t have this type of career. You wouldn’t live out of that.

So when we were here, we started doing this, and eventually became … It got to the point where I was like, “This is… I love doing this.” And I was already in 12th grade, so I had to decide, this is the time to decide what I want to do at the university.

Andrea Cody:

Just to kind of give us some context, what year did you graduate high school?

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

2000.

Andrea Cody:

Okay.

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

And in that same year, it’s when I was teaching, in that same year that I had to be, like, wow. This is what I like to do, and I have to make a decision immediately. What am I going to study? What am I going to do? And I didn’t think my parents were going to support me. Both my parents are engineers. A chemical engineer, and an industrial engineer. So, in my life I thought they were going to support me, but they never said no. I mean they were already supporting me, but without me knowing it, as a teacher.

So, at that point, I was like, oh my god. This is what I want to study, and the closest thing I had was graphic design. To work. I was like let me just go for graphic design.

My mom, she always said. “Why don’t you do dance. What if you do these things?” But in my head I was like I’m not good enough. I have two rods in my back. I’m never going to make it. I’m just doing this for fun.

To make a long story short, I went to the university to study dance for that first time, first year. I did my first show parallel to that. That was the first year that I had my first show ever. I had 30 students and I was so nervous. I was dying of nerves throughout the whole thing. It was beautiful. Then my parents got transferred to Houston. So we moved within that same year to Houston.

Andrea Cody:

Where were you before Houston?

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

Weston, Florida.

Andrea Cody:

Okay.

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

That’s where I did all this, in my apartment. My parent’s townhome. And that’s where I had my first show, right before moving here to Houston.

So we moved here to Houston, and right there, again, I was studying graphic design, but I was frustrated. I just wanted to dance. I just wanted to keep producing my shows. I was sad now that I didn’t have my students. What was I going to do, in a new place, new people. I had to start all over again. Thankfully we did. We found some places. I started looking around. And my parents sat me down, and my sister, and they’re like, “Do you want to continue this?”

And we’re like, “Uh, yeah. We like it.” So we did the same. Our living room. Some wood. Some mirrors. I started trying to be part of groups, different groups just to know the style.

Eventually, you know, we decided let’s do this. Let’s start doing it again. But there was something that was stopping me. Still, the graphic design. I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to do this anymore. When I went to the university they told me that I had to start again from zero, but that year I half that I had already done was not going to be able to be transferred. I started crying right there. My dad is just looking at me in front of these directors. He’s like, “Do you have anything for dance? This girl just wants to dance.” The actual director of the school, the counselor, said, “Yes, we actually have a bachelor’s degree in arts in dance and theater. Right there I was like, “Oh, what?”

My dad just looked at me. He’s like, “Why don’t you study that? That’s what you want to do.” I was like,
“Are you serious?” In three seconds, my life completely changed. So I decided to study that. Then after that, six months later we rented a studio. And here we are 20 years later.

Yes. I started just like that. It was amazing. I kept dancing like that for my sister. Everything was amazing. In 2007, she passes away. 

Andrea Cody:

Oh, I’m sorry.

Maria:

In an accident with her and her husband. She did. That point was very hard for me, because I didn’t know if I wanted to keep on going. I was like, if the DAN of the DANMAR is not there, I’m not going to do it. But thankfully enough, we had seven years already in business, six years or so. I had a lot of support from a lot of people. The community had been amazing with us. The parents, they never let me down. And I’m still here. So definitely, thankfully, I’m doing something right. I have a great team. My mom, my dad, my husband, my uncles. I mean, I have a lot of family support. And the community just has been great with me, so I cannot complain. I’m still doing what I’m doing, and here I am. So I guess, when you fight it, you definitely have it.

Andrea Cody:

Wonderful. So thanks for catching us up. What a great story. Tell me about your specialty, like what’s your favorite dance style, what’s the main one? Tell us about it.

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

You know, it’s always been the question of a million dollars. I am never able to answer that one. I guess I would say that the one that I perform most are Flamenco and folkloric, Venezuelan folk. Those are the two that actually I guess may separate me from the rest of my friends.

But which ones do I enjoy more or which ones do I teach? I specialize, too, in the arabic dances, a lot of people here call it belly dancing. I also do a lot of Latin rhythms, South American bachata, salsa, samba. So all those, besides the ones that I studied at the university.  When I went to University of Houston, I studied there, their specialty was modern. Now remind you that I couldn’t contract in anything. So when I auditioned there, I was like, “But I have a physical disability. How am I going to do this?”

To me, it was very rough. They made it very hard for me, but I am so thankful, because they make me step outside my comfort zone. They made me work so hard for what I wanted. I remember Karen Stokes and Theresa Chapman and Sophia, Miss Sophia, they were all like, “If you really want this, you need to find a way. Because the world is not here to adapt to you. You need to adapt to the world. If you want to be able to be a part of a professional company, keep going. You’re a student. You need to be an example for others, not have pity. People shouldn’t have pity because you have two rods in your back. You need to be an example.”

So it was pretty amazing. So since then, I haven’t been afraid of doing anything and everything, even if I cannot, maybe I’m doing it all wrong, but I try. So Venezuelan folk, Flamenco, Latin rhythms and arabic dances are the main ones that I do.

Andrea Cody:

Yeah. Well, tell us about Flamenco.

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

Well, Flamenco. So what do you want to know about Flamenco? Which part? The Flamenco is a whole new world. We will be here for seven hours or more.

Andrea Cody:

Right, right, then let’s just start with the origin story, like where does it come from, how it gets its name, when did it begin?

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

Here’s what I would say. For example, based on the questions you have asked me. I guess before, like the question when you asked me about my favorite ones and all this. Flamenco, I think, is the one that challenges me the most because it’s so … There’s so much information about it. And for those of you who don’t know, like whoever’s listening to this, Flamenco’s originally from Spain. It’s a dance they do in Spain. It originally came there. It was dancing in Andalucia, in southern parts of Spain.

Back then, it was more about folk dancing as well. But when the oldest influences they had over there, it became more of what’s known today as pure Flamenco. So there’s a lot of history behind it. It models Arabics and all these people coming in and there and out. That’s where you would see how is it known? By the hand movements, the stomping, the outfits with ruffles, the long tail of the dance, the castanet, the guitar. You find the cante, which is the singing. You find now the cahon players. The horn is like a wood box. That’s actually an influence from Peru. Peru was the one who actually had that instrument first, but now you see it on the perfect cuadro is like the perfect group of performers that you see.

In Flamenco, we already know, that’s it’s from Spain. It’s danced usually either by a girl or a guy. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have a specific gender. Anyone can do it. One of the interesting things about Flamenco is that the older you are, in comparison to ballet, for example, if you’re a ballerina, you want to succeed, you need to be young, you need to be very young and your body needs to be very capable of doing. But after a certain age, you’re not able to be a prima ballerina.

In Flamenco, actually, the older you are, the better it is. Because then you have more of that maturity to understand all these emotions that are behind it. All these things, all this structure that goes behind it, the understanding of the differences. It’s such a broad world. It’s like a complete different thing. I’ve been dancing Flamenco since I was what, seven or six years old. I’m 37 years old and I’m still learning. It’s impressive.

It’s a beautiful an art form. You have dances that are happy, that are sad. You have anything from painful. You can dance to a song that is relating death, and you need to have a structure to dance to it. It’s not just a regular song. There’s a communication between everyone. You need to know how to communicate with everyone. So this can take years to master.

But it’s such a beautiful art form. I always invite people to learn it and they want to know more about it, please feel free to either go online, you have the advantage of that, you can find it anywhere. There’s a particular webpage if anyone’s very interested in learning more that’s called Flamenco Polis. It’s Flamenco, then P-O-L-I-S. Flamenco Polis. So you can find all kinds of information. And it’s beautiful.

But I guess you can ask me anything specific. Besides that, if you want you have binary rhythms, trinary rhythms. You need to be able to identify if you’re dancing in fours, in sevens, in eights, in twelves. Then depending on the accent that you do, the rhythm changes, the outfit colors change. The region where it’s danced is changed. I mean, woo! Many things.

Andrea Cody:

Have you been to Spain?

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

Oh yes. Many times. And actually I go every time that I get a chance. I would say before, now I have a baby. Mytrips there have stopped for now. But the last time I went was in 2016. Every time I go, I try to go for a minimum of a month so I can actually do study there and keep training and we do certifications there. Yeah. Every time you learn something. It’s just like medicine, you keep training yourself.

Andrea Cody:

How’s Flamenco different there from here?

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

Oh. You find it there in every corner. You have guitars and a singer everywhere. You have schools that are just strictly for Flamenco. They train six hours a week, seven hours a week. You go to every single show every weekend. Here it’s different in the sense that maybe you would have to do one show per year, because of the community. The Flamenco community is small. I’m not saying that there’s not people interested, but when it comes to dancing, there’s not so many students as compared to over there.

I’m specifically talking to Houston (Katy) in Houston. Because if you go to Miami, there’s a lot of Flamenco there. If you go to probably New York and Los Angeles, there’s more. There’s a difference over there, definitely. You’re living there the pureness of it. Here, we’re aficionados.

Andrea Cody:

I see.

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

It’s completely different. It’s like if you go to Venezuela, it’s completely different seeing the shows over there or seeing the people purely dancing to it, then here. It’s like we’re trying to make a show to educate people. But it’s not the same essence as actually being there.

Andrea Cody:

What is in there? Where are you? It’s in the street. Where else? What’s the environment like for Flamenco in Spain?

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

You can go do tablao. The tablaos are the typical spaces where you would see Flamenco shows. I love them. They’re these tiny little holes. They’re not a big theater. This is not a big theater type of show. A tablao is a small room, maybe 40-50 people can be in it. They raise a tiny stage or they have it at the same level. You see this person right here. There’s no such a difference, like a theater of 3000 people, 1000 people. You see right there, the singer, the dancer, the guitarist, done. There’s no so much lighting. No.

Sometimes now these days you find these speakers and a microphone so that everybody can hear it, but on the street, you will see anyone just doing it right there. That sense of the closeness, the one on one is so spectacular. I love it. It’s so delicious. Every time I do a show here, I try to do the same. We try to make it in small places so that people can get the vibe and the sense that they have in Spain or in a tablao to live what it would be like if they were actually in Spain.

Andrea Cody:

Cool. I went to one in Seville. 

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

Seville.

Andrea Cody:

Sevilla. And the closest thing that reminds me of it here is Mi Luna.

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mi Luna is actually big, because it’s a restaurant.

Andrea Cody:

It is big. Yeah. 

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

I used to perform over there. It’s very different than a tablao in the sense that when you’re in a restaurant, people are just eating. They want to have fun, but they’re not really paying attention to the dancing. So normally, if you’re performing, when I used to play over there and dance and entertain, I would say my performing set was completely different than actually doing one in a specific tablao, for people to actually see the tablao.

Meaning: people when they’re watching in a restaurant, they want to see something fun. They’re celebrating a birthday, you know what I mean? So you’re just dancing Flamenco, but happy type of Flamenco. If you start doing something very, very deep, very sad, people wouldn’t connect to the audience in that sense because they’re expecting something happy. Or they would be like, “Why do you have that mad face all the time?” It’s not that you have a mad face, but depending on the palo, palo would mean the rhythm, that you are representing, you need to represent that.

If you’re dancing let’s say seguidillas, seguidillas is a rhythm there, where you’re dancing to like death. You’re dancing to something sad and angry. That cannot be happy about it. I cannot be wearing a pink outfit. I need to be wearing a black outfit. You know what I mean? There’s so much to it. So if I’m in a restaurant or I go get hired to a private party or birthday or whatever, I know for a fact that I need to prepare my set based on my audience and what the event is for.

Andrea Cody:

Right. It’s interesting to think about how the different cultures and their context of presenting this dance changes it.

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

Totally. That’s one of the things that I love. When I think of Flamenco dancing, it’s like immediately takes me to passion, desire, strength, emotion, power. If I think of Venezuelan folk, it immediately takes me to home, love, pureness, memories. If I think of belly dancing, belly dancing for me to immediately thinking of beauty, elegance, sensuality. Not sexuality, sensuality.

If I think of Latin rhythms, South American, fun, party, connection, social dancing. It’s completely different and depending. That’s why when people ask me which one is your favorite, I can’t answer which one is my favorite because it also depends on my state of mind at the time, my mood. I might be one day very happy and I just see myself and that’s what connects with me. I might be very angry and the first thing that I hear is a very powerful Flamenco song and I just want to stomp my heart out. If I go to, I don’t know, the supermarket and I’m overwhelmed, maybe I just want to hear something soft and mellow. It all depends. My body’s just meant to dance. Whatever I hear, I’ll just move to it, even if I’m doing it wrong, but it’ll just go with the flow.

Andrea Cody:

Nice. So who are your teachers?

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

Well, imagine having so many different styles that I have tried and I still, believe me, I would still sign up for any class that I see, even if it’s not in my comfort zone. I’ve had many, many different teachers in my life. I’m very thankful to each one of them. Each one of them has made an impact in my life in a different way. From my first teacher ever, La Madame, that’s how it was called. She was the one who started introducing me to tap and contemporary and ballet and jazz.

Then Olmira Olivedos was my first Flamenco teacher. I was six, seven years old. There’s this woman, she was so sweet and I just fell in love with it. I remember, it was just three of us in the class. She just started teaching it. I would never forget how much fun she made it for me. You know how hard it is to teach kids. Sometimes if they’re not interested, done. They’re gone. Here I am 30 years later. It was amazing.

I’ve had amazing teachers. Olmira Olivedos, Amari Seville, Miriam Eli in belly dancing, Flamenco. Antonio Granjero here, he was here in Houston and I took classes from him. Tamelis Herrer from Miami. And the University of Houston, Evan Kearn, that I told you, he was a professor and I had classes with him. We stay connected.

I mean, I had a bunch of teachers that have impacted my life and I’m very thankful. And I always tell people, if they’re hearing this, be always thankful to all of your teachers. No matter if you connected with them in a deeper level or not. Every teacher teaches something. I’ve heard so many times students saying, “This teacher never taught me this.” I’m sure they did, but maybe you were not in the zone at that moment. Maybe you were thinking of something else, or maybe you didn’t get it at the time, or maybe it didn’t click with you. But every teacher at any point teaches something, otherwise you wouldn’t be where you are. You have to compare yourself to how you started to where you’re now. That’s what I always say. Be thankful to all the teachers, no matter what, because they always teach you. They always leave a mark on you, no matter what. And always thank them.

I thank all my teachers for doing everything they did and for everything I have learned. Because thanks to them, it’s where I am here today. I feel that each one of them has taught me something that I have been able to use also today.

Andrea Cody:

Awesome. What have you seen change over time since you started? Just how dance has evolved with technology?

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

Well in technology and in everything. That’s a very important one. I was discussing this question with my parents and my husband, because it’s very interesting how definitely it has changed in the last decade for sure, 10 years, 20 years from, you know, before it was completely different. I remember when I used to be, I would belly dance in five restaurants around the Houston area. I would only dance with a veil and bells. That’s what you needed in order to be a belly dancer. These days, you need to have fire, you need to have swords, you need to have snakes. You need to have props. It’s like, yeah.

It’s very interesting, don’t get me wrong. I have friends who are amazing at it. But I feel sometimes sad for some friends, let’s say, if they’re afraid of fire, then you cannot compete with the girl who does fire, because she will take the gigs from you. Because people these days as an audience, they’re expecting so much more now than what it used to be before. So if you’re not doing this circus type of show, very glamorous, craziness, Cirque du Soleil. If you’re not doing something like that, people don’t get that wow factor. You know what I mean?

It’s not the same thing, the traditional old fashioned bells and veils compared to now I’m dancing with fire all over me and I can do all these tricks and now I get this snake out. It’s very different. I wouldn’t say it’s better or worse, I just think it’s different.

In salsa, for example, the salsa scene, if you’re dancing the typical salsa dance, now, it’s not the same as when you start doing tricks. Now you need to be lifting the girl, tricking her, doing all these stunts for the audience to stand up and bow. You know what I mean? Now is not one pirouette, you have to be able to do 20 million. You need to do over slips, you need to do all this craziness.

So in that sense it has changed. When it comes to technology, I’m actually very thankful for this part, because before it was so hard for me to do the whole set, have everything ready in less than two days, renting a theater for two days just to have a set design to change the scenery from one scene to the other one in one second. Now, with LEDs, with the whole you have your screen in the back and you can project everything. You don’t need to spend so much money on backdrops and on all these props.

So for me, it’s actually been a great advancement, if that’s a word. Forgive me for my English and my Spanish. So yeah, definitely I love it and I think it’s nice. I think we are growing in that department, and in my own opinion I feel better when it comes to that. I’m saving some money, too. So yes.

Andrea Cody:

Awesome. How have you seen your students change? You went from teaching peers I think you said when you were 15. Why were they dancing then compared to why they’re dancing here and now?

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

You mean how are they still dancing right now?

Andrea Cody:

What’s their motivation?

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

Before you mean? Like for them?

Andrea Cody:

Yeah, is it the same? Yeah, for your students.

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

You know that’s very interesting. You know, I’ve always wondered, since I started teaching I thought that the students were going to keep dancing as I was. I’ve always been very focused on dancing. My life runs around dancing. I go to the mall and I’m not enjoying the mall, I’m seeing, “Ooh this outfit,” and how can I use it in a show.

It’s crazy, it’s crazy. I’m going and I’m like, “Ooh I could use this song for a show.” My mind just goes around in shows all day, dancing choreographies. I thought that when I first started teaching that those girls were going to be, if they’re starting to dance, they think the same way that I think, I figured, I thought. Then they graduated high school and college started, and they stopped. In my head, I’m like why aren’t you dancing still? You can still go to university. I mean I went to university and I was working full time. My life consisted of university from 8:00 am to 4:30 then teaching from 5:00 to 10:00. Then homework at 2:00 in the morning and taking showers at 3:00 in the morning.

I was taking eight courses per semester and I graduated magna cum laude. How can you not with only four? It was like I was very judgemental at the time. I was younger. I think I wanted people to do what I wanted them to do. But then I realized that everyone has different purposes and motivations to dance. I noticed that there’s people who dance because they want to become professionals at it. There’s people who want to do it just to relax. There’s people who want to do it because they want to maybe just do it as a hobby or just to compete. There’s people who just want to do it because.

So definitely that has been a challenge for me to understand. Back then, it was rough, because I expected them to grow with me. But no, I have people who keep on dancing because they really like it. But they don’t do it obviously probably as I do. I do it as professionally, it’s my career. People do it as a hobby.

Maybe just four or five have been that they still study. Some of my students, I have been able to share that passion and they’ve been wanting to go to the university and study that. But definitely, yes, there’s people who just have different motivations in life to do it. Either way I’m happy and I hope that whoever does it, does it for whatever reason. I just invite people to do it, because it is so much fun to be able to do this as a therapy. There’s so many beneficial aspects of dancing. Improvement in every sense. Coordination, memory, speed, I don’t know. There’s so many. Flexibility. There’s so many good factors of this, so.

Andrea Cody:

What is it doing for you right now?

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

At this moment, I would say it’s hard for me to answer that one, because a lot of people I hear, from my students, they tell me this is great, it’s a moment for me to relax. For me, it’s good to relax, I relax when I’m with them, but in the back of my head, I’m thinking there’s so many colleagues of mine who cannot even teach. There’s so many colleagues of mine that have had already to close their studios because they don’t have the money to pay the rent.

So it’s like I’m… It’s weird. I have mixed feelings. Because I feel like I want to help some people. I’m not producing enough. I just shared with another studio, friends of mine, some money. Let me donate this to you. A friend of mine said, “I saw you donating them. They’re competition to you.” I’m like they’re not competition. I mean, we’re trying to survive. At this moment, there’s so many people trying to just find something to eat. How do they make the money to eat? I still have to pay my bills and I still have to pay the rent.

Thankfully I’m teaching through Zoom and it’s been great. But I don’t know for how long this is going to last. So in the back of my head, it’s relaxing while I see them for that hour. But as soon as I shut down the computer, it’s like, do we know that this is going to continue next month? Do we know if this is going to still happen? What’s going to happen with us artists? What are we going to do?

Andrea Cody:

We’re in the middle of week five of quarantine in Houston. How has your relationship with dance changed from six weeks ago? I would imagine it was your best friend, now is it your counselor? Have you lost touch?

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

I think I am … I don’t think it’s so much about me per se, it’s more about my students. I feel that if I don’t have an answer for them I feel bad. You know what I mean? It’s like it’s not so much about me. At this point, I have so much going on with my family. My daughter. My parents just moved back here. I have not had them for a year and a half.

So to a point, I’m kind of distracted. But when I put my feet on the ground and I see the other people, it’s like what are they doing? What am I going to do to help them? That’s more where I’m thinking, rather than my connection with dance. I’m always connected to dance. It’s a love and hate relationship. There’s moments where if something doesn’t work on me, I hate it. There’s moments where everything’s kills me and I just want to stop.

But if I hear some drums, I listen to the radio and I hear, my body automatically dances. So it’s like I can’t. I say all the time, “I’m going to quit. I’m done.” Then I’m like, no, I can’t. I still do it. So.

Andrea Cody:

Yeah. Keep going. It sounds like your relationship has changed a bit from being something to pass down, something that was really self-expressive, to now it’s a vehicle for doing good for others and staying connected.

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

Yes. Definitely for that. That has made a difference. Not only that, right before this break, we were doing competition teams. So these girls had just competed. And we won, thankfully, the whole thing. The Power Ball, they call it. The highest trophy. These kids were super excited. That weekend, when this whole thing started, was their second competition. There’s no competition. All this preparation, my show, the end of the year show, in June. I had so many little shows here and there. I was collaborating with so many people.

And it’s gone. What do we do? So again, it’s like, yes, I feel like when you’re lovey dovey and everything is pink. Right now I feel like it’s kind of like black. In colors, if I could describe it in colors right before this, I was seeing pink, in a pink mode. Right now I’m feeling like in some kind of gray. It’s not black or white, it’s just gray. I can’t see through.

Andrea Cody:

The fog has set in.

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

Yes.

Andrea Cody:

Yeah. 

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

The unknown. The uncertainty. 

Andrea Cody:

Your relationship with your students is so important and it’s wonderful that you’re keeping that alive and being here for them. I know they need you.

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

It’s insane. 20 years teaching, for sure, it shows. I’m going to get emotional.

Andrea Cody:

Yeah. You’ve been wonderful. We can take a break.

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

Sorry.

Andrea Cody:

Take a breath.

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

This didn’t happen before. This is brand new, discovering something. I didn’t think I was feeling like this. It’s really like I can feel for them.

Andrea Cody:

Yeah.

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

I’m sorry.

Andrea Cody:

My kids are so happy to be spending time with their teachers. It’s just awesome for them to get to see them and to get to see their classmates. It really takes us back, at least in our imagination, to those places and that community that we so long for. I know you want to get back there. Have you thought about any alternatives? What you’re going to do? What are you hoping to do next?

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

We’ve been mainly concerned, obviously, we have a studio, too. We have to pay our bills, I mean the rent. That has been our main concern, because if we don’t have the studio? Okay, what do we do? We do have a solution. I don’t have a studio, I used to teach in my house, I can still do it. You know what I mean?

Andrea Cody:

You go back to your roots.

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

That’s for sure. That is not stopping me. But what’s stopping me from doing that is that I do have a staff. I do have an amazing group of teachers. They don’t have a studio. They’re depending on me, on what the studio does so we can pay them and give them this world. Because to them, this is also another I guess escape from reality.

What stops me too from just saying, well, if we cannot pay the studio, it’s fine, we’ll close it. I’ll teach through Zoom. It’s like, what do I do with my staff? Do we give them the students, too? Do we still work together? They’re teaching with me through Zoom. We do this whole thing. They’re teaching from their house. We’re helping them.

But the unknown of having the students wanting to keep on doing this, that’s what killing me. How do we help these people? I’m thankful that I have my husband, thankfully he still has his job, but some of these dancers, like that, they don’t have a husband who’s producing. They probably don’t have a job. Maybe they’re the main income in their house. It’s like how can we help if I’m not able to continue with this?

If I’m not helping myself, I cannot help them. That’s the part that is scary. We want to keep doing this for me, but for them as well. Now that I’m a mom, I think that’s why I got like this. It’s like now that I’m a mom, I’m feeling even more love towards these kids. I’ve always been in love with my kids, but now it’s like even more.

Andrea Cody:

You relate to them.

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

It’s so easy.

Andrea Cody:

You know them better.

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

Yeah.

Andrea Cody:

Right. Yeah, I think I’ve gone through that transformation as well. My students have always been my kids, you know, my favorite people. But this last summer, my heart just exploded when one of them had grown up and came back to camp as a choreographer and did this dance to a song. The chorus said, “I found love where it wasn’t supposed to be, right in front of me.” I’m standing there watching all of them dancing, and I love them so much. I was like, “Oh my goodness, this is what this song is about to me.”

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

So cute.

Andrea Cody:

I was so proud and blown away.

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

They get in your life. They eventually do. They teach us to become better. Because I think I’m also a better teacher every day thanks to them. They’re the ones who teach me. There’s no book telling us how to teach. There’s no formula for us to get to know each student. Everyone learns differently. You have to be a good teacher to get the best out of each kid and teach them in the way that they are going to be able to understand.

If you make such connections with all of them, even the worst one, the rebel one, the sweet one, you have it all. I don’t know if it’s our mom spirits or what it is that we always want to make them just be better. It’s crazy. It’s beautiful.

Andrea Cody:

It is. I think we’re going to stay together. We need each other, as always, if not more than ever. We’ll see how that comes to be.

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

We have to make it work. Yes. We have to see. I have faith that this is going to be fixed sooner than later. But it’s just the not knowing when. Like I said, there’s some friends that cannot wait. There’s some people that cannot wait. There’s some people that when I lost them as students right now because they cannot pay or they have low income families, it’s like, I worry for them. Where are they now? This was their only escape, just dancing. I’m seeing them everyday, even it’s one hour, I’m preventing them from doing things that probably are not okay.

It’s like I worry about them. Where are they? What are they doing now? Are they okay? Do their parents need attention? Are they in school? Are they doing what they’re supposed to be doing in school? What about the people that don’t have computers? What about people who don’t have this technology for things and they cannot even take classes now. I don’t know. My mom tells me to not stress so much about it, but I can’t.

Andrea Cody:

Yeah. You have already given them the gift of dance. They have every one of those moves you gave them, and the ones you’ve cheered them on as they made up themselves. The ones you helped to refine if they brought in with them when they showed up. They have that to keep them going and strong and healthy.

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

Definitely. I feel good for that. Like you said, when they show you their dance or their improvement, or if you don’t see them again and they just dance somewhere else in another country, it’s just so rewarding to know that you put a little bit in that. That they’re growing thanks to that. You probably just think that passion’s there somehow. In one way or another I think it helps them to learn about whatever, discipline, teamwork, love for your friends, love for your teacher, respect. Yeah. There’s so many good things about this and I love it. I’m in love with it.

Andrea Cody:

My guest today is Maria Fernanda Urbaez. Maria, thank you for being a part of DanceTalks.

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

Thank you so much. It was super fun. Thank you for getting this out of me now. Good. 

Andrea Cody:

Take care.

Maria Fernanda Urbaez:

Thank you.

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