Keepin’ Up with Viv: From Yuma to NYC

Hey everyone, Vivianna DeSantiago here! I’m excited to share my first months in the city as the inaugural year winner of the Ann Reinking Award! Born and raised in the hot and dry Yuma, Arizona, the Big Apple was a place I dreamed of living since I was eleven years old. Now, over a decade later, I am proud to say that I am an official New York City Resident!

Where It All Began

As a young girl, I would spend hours watching the New York City Ballet’s YouTube Channel, fangirling over the famous Lincoln Center, and became fascinated with the performing arts after watching artists on television and film.

The first show I remember watching as a kid, that ignited my spark for performing arts, was a Mexican children’s telenovela called Complices Al Rescate. And of course, I can’t forget my Disney Channel love for The Cheetah Girls and High School Musical; they were definitely influential. At home, you would find me dancing, singing, and requesting my aunt to videotape me, so I could feel like I had my own movie or music video…as one does! 

It wasn’t until my mother signed me up for ballet at 11 years old that I discovered my true passion to become a professional dancer. Through years of training at my home ballet studio, getting exposed to modern and jazz dance in college, and dancing in a professional modern dance company, I have grown a deep love for all movement styles. My dreams now include both concert dance and Broadway! What city would be perfect for all of that? New York City, of course!

My First Weeks in the City

I arrived mid-September feeling anxious; the past two years had been leading up to this moment! Hearing about the competitiveness in the arts and feeling like a small fish in a big pond with a large pool of artists in NYC had me worried.

But I was thrilled to move into my charming and cozy apartment while simultaneously reuniting with my roommates, whom I met two years ago at a summer intensive. Buying furniture and decorating the apartment to feel like home was a special time that I’ll never forget.

My first weeks in the city were nothing short of magical! Taking classes at my favorite studios (Paul Taylor Modern Dance and Steps on Broadway), starting my front desk job at Ballet Academy East, and romanticizing my new city with friends!

Finding Out About the Ann Reinking Award

On an early October afternoon, only three weeks into living in the city and after just finishing taking James Kinney’s theater dance class at the Taylor studios, I received the call that I was the inaugural Ann Reinking Award Winner! 

I had first applied for the award back in June of 2021, not really thinking much of it because I knew I’d be one of many applicants. Although, I did daydream when I sent in my application about the amazing advisory board members picking me and thinking to myself “Wow winning that award would give whoever won confidence and reassurance…What an honor!” The scholarship came with multiple perks. It wasn’t just a grant of money, but mentorship, accountability check-ins for the year, Steps on Broadway (up to 10 classes a week), and being a part of a wonderful community.  You can imagine how over the moon I felt after the phone call. I felt happy, proud, shocked, and hopeful for my future!  

I walked home that day in happy tears! It was surreal! 

During the two weeks after finding out I was the winner up to the night of the gala, there was plenty to prepare! I had to figure out what I was going to wear and write an acceptance speech. I was filled with gratitude. I couldn’t believe it, me? I was the one person they selected? One of the hardest things was keeping it a secret. I eventually told my family before the gala night and they were so excited and proud of me! I was very nervous about making my speech. Public speaking is not an easy task; it took time and patience to figure out what I wanted to say. Once I had it figured out, I was practicing daily! 

The Night of the Gala

The night of the Empower Artists Gala was the best night of my life! I got to meet Broadway royalty alongside the amazing people in Annie’s life, watch spectacular performances, and make my acceptance speech. I was nervous to say the least!  Before it was my turn to go up for my speech, I had already been crying. I felt overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. I kept trying to hold my tears back and keep myself together. 

Once I finally walked up on the stage, I couldn’t help but get emotional all over again, but this time everyone was looking at me! As I began to give my speech, a miracle happened and my words flowed out of my mouth.  It felt natural. (To this day I haven’t seen the video of me making my speech, but the vivid memory lives rent free in my head!) The program ended with Bianca Marroquin and Brenda Braxton’s spectacular performance of Nowadays and Hot Honey Rag

I will never forget the joy I felt in that room.

Off and Running…

Not even a week later, I found myself as Ann Reinking Advisory Board member Gregory Butler’s date to Chicago’s 25th Anniversary Show! I was thrilled when he invited me, not only to watch this magnificent performance, but to walk the red carpet as well! I was in a constant state of awe that night.. inspired by Charlotte d’Amboise’s tribute to Annie, witnessing the original company members stand up before the program began, and, of course, watching the current company razzle dazzle the audience. I had never seen Chicago on Broadway before and l fell in love all over again. Let’s just say Nowadays and Me and My Baby are still on my “On Repeat” playlist on Spotify. The night ended at Joe Allen’s with the best company a girl could ask for! (I could get used to this!)

So… What’s Next?

Now it is 2022 and I am working daily on my goals and ambitions for the year! In addition to my classes at Steps on Broadway, I was also accepted into the Paul Taylor Scholarship Program shortly after moving to the city! I get to take the professional level Taylor classes every morning and learn from current and former company members. It’s a privilege to be amongst beautiful artists in studios led by world renowned instructors! 

On a typical day you can find me barefoot doing the Taylor back exercise (if you know you know) at 10:30am in the morning, in my LaDuca heels doing hip isolations at 2:30pm, and attempting to be patient with myself in my tap shoes in class at 4:30pm in the afternoon. I have also begun private voice lessons with an amazing instructor recommended by my Mentor, Anne Otto. Working with Anne has been a dream and I am thankful to have someone to talk to on a regular basis to learn how to navigate this crazy dance world.

I am focused on my training with the wonderful opportunities I have been given this year. In the short amount of time I have lived in New York, I have met many dancers, actors, and teachers and hope to continue making connections as I start diving into auditioning soon! I look forward to getting the chance to work alongside them in the not so distant future!

Personal goals for 2022

When I am not training or working, I am writing in my journal and going on walks in my neighborhood. My favorite is when I can see the Hudson River; I think of the lyrics from Lin Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights “There’s a breeze off the Hudson and just when you think you’re sick of living here the memory floods in…”

I have a passion for taking photos, editing, and adding fun captions. My goals for the year are to start recording video content and one day have a successful YouTube channel. I love listening to music. Some of my favorite artists are Lorde, The Lumineers, The Beatles, Queen, and Hozier to name a few! 

A true highlight of my time in the city was getting the chance to watch one of my friends perform at The Met in Fire Shut Up in My Bones. It was the first live performance I has seen since the pandemic, and it had me in tears. Watching my college friend dance on that iconic stage was a truly proud moment. I hope to continue to watch more of these inspiring shows, meet new friends, find the best pizza in New York, and enjoy life’s spontaneity. 

Thank you for joining me on my first blog post! More to come and I can’t wait to take you on my Journey!

Follow me on Instagram! @viviannadesantiago