Yessenia Reyes: A Dance of Passion and Perseverance

From the quiet admiration of a ballet dancer’s portrait to the grand stages alongside musical giants, Yessenia Reyes’ dance journey is a narrative of passion, determination, and the transformative power of art. Her story is not just about the rhythm and steps, but also the emotional tapestry that dance weaves into the lives it touches.

Through teaching and performance, Yessenia has witnessed the profound impact dance can have on lives, including her own. She recounts days when the prospect of dancing was the sole balm for her emotional turmoil, offering respite and resurgence from life’s darker corners. Her conviction in dance as a life-changing force is mirrored in the experiences of her students, whose lives have been indelibly improved by their engagement with the art form.

Yessenia’s story is a powerful narrative that encapsulates the essence of dedication, the importance of emotional well-being, and the endless pursuit of dreams. She stands as a beacon of artistic passion, proving that with resilience and heart, the dance of life can lead to extraordinary places.

As a person, Yessenia is the embodiment of perseverance, grace, and empathy, a pillar for those who find in her teaching a language to express their deepest emotions and stories. It’s not merely the accolades or the stages graced by her presence that define her; rather, it’s the silent strength she instills in her students, the nurturing of dreams she once harbored, and the selfless dedication to her craft that resonate with profound admiration.

Her very essence lies in the moments of connection, be it a comforting embrace or a shared victory with her students.

Yessenia is a woman with a beautiful soul who irradiates kindness, faith, discipline, resilience, passion, and love. She makes the most of every day, impacting the lives of everyone around her while making a difference in this world.

Check our conversation in the transcript below:

When did you first become interested in dancing? What inspired you to dance?

It’s curious because the truth is that I feel I was born with a strong inclination towards arts, because when I was little I wanted to be an actress, I wanted to be a singer, I wanted to be a dancer, I wanted to be all that. I was very young so I wasn’t able to define that any of those areas meant being an artist. Life obviously took me on the path of dancing.

This is something I haven’t said much but I remember starting to fall in love with it when I went to the house of one of my neighbors in a very small town where I lived and he had a painting with a ballet dancer in the living room. She was in a classic position and in that moment I didn’t recognize it but I was just dazzled with how delicate the painting was, with her feet, with her hands and with what her eyes transmitted, and I always wanted to go that neighbor’s house to see the painting, and I spent a lot of time just seeing it, like really immersing myself in that painting, I tried to copy the position of her arms, so I remember that image clearly in my mind, it was the first time I said being a dancer is so beautiful.

And from there, I really started getting involved everywhere, in all the groups I could in high school, and fortunately, I arrived at the biggest dance company in El Salvador, where I was born, I was very young I was 15 years old when the director saw my dance, by chance, and I got an invited to an audition in the professional company, and incredibly, with no studies and with nothing more than dreams and a bit of undeveloped talent I got accept into Compañía de Ballet Teatro Mauricio Bonilla in El Salvador and there I started a career with professional training.

And I was the youngest, the smallest, everyone had many years in the company, I think that part was a bit hard, being the new girl, the small girl, and all that, but that’s where it all started.

Were you a bit intimidated?

I was very intimidated, I was very scared, I told myself, ‘how will I get to look like my teammates?’ It wasn’t possible they were tall, with long legs, they had extension, which helps with body flexibility, and while God gave me natural extension, it was not developed, so while working my body in extreme fashion didn’t hurt, I didn’t know how to do it properly, so they started guiding me with exercises and to be honest, I was able to learn faster than I expected, which brought me problems with my teammates, but then I started to see that what I thought it was a hobby at first might be possible and something beautiful I wanted to do.

Since the first time I stood on stage, guess with who it was? Life told me ‘you will make it big girl,’ the first time I stood on a big stage as a trained dancer of a company was dancing with José Luis Rodríguez, with “El Puma.” I was a kid, I was 16 years old and they chose me as a dancer for his cast at Estadio Cuscatlán in El Salvador and it was an amazing experience, that first impression with the crowd, with thousands of people and with “El Puma,” I told myself ‘I want this for the rest of my life.’ It was an incredible first step in dancing. I said ‘I want to do this.’ I told myself, I couldn’t tell my parents back then, they would have told me to sell potatoes.

So, I said ‘Mom, what do you think about me studying dance while continuing with my regular studies?’ My parents didn’t like it at all, but in the end, they started to accept it!

How was the experience with “El Puma”?

What an experience! It was the first time I danced with an artist! I was the first time I met an artist as well! He was very kind, he was very humble, he said hi to the entire cast, he said hi to the dancers, to all the people in charge, he had a lot of energy on stage, everyone singing Agárrense de Las Manos (one of his most popular songs), it was really amazing, so like I’m telling you it was an incredible first impression with everything, I had a good artist, an incredible stadium, and incredible crowd, so it was a very awesome experience.

What do you like the most about dancing and what’s the hardest part?

What a tough question! Ok, what I like the most about dancing is that over the years I’ve seen firsthand that it can change lives.

The first life it changed was mine! I can give you a general answer and say it feels nice, it is very passionate but no, I had days in my life in which I didn’t want to get out of bed, I didn’t want to do anything, I was in a very dark place in my life, it was very depressive, very sad, and the only reason why I got up was to dance, I told myself ‘ok I have to go train’, or ‘I have to go teach a class’, or ‘I have to teach something to one of my students,’ and I forced myself to get up and once I was in the dance floor I felt much better, I mean what would have happened before and what I knew would happen later didn’t matter, that moment where I felt the music, where I could explore movements, where I could be myself, was incredible, it was magical, so I felt well, and then the next day I felt well again and little by little you are filled with days that reinforce feeling well, so I think dancing changes lives.

I’ve seen other examples, not just mine, from other people, from my students, some with strong diagnoses like Asperger’s Syndrome, and they told them, ‘you will never dance, what’s wrong with you, you can’t pay attention,’ and I end up making a special dance plan for that little person, and imagine how touching it is for me, one day hosting the entire family here in the Academy with a new psychiatrist diagnoses two years later saying the girl is perfect, she can socialize, she can integrate society, she talks, she has fun, they removed around half of her medicines, and here I have her, she’s a happy girl, a pre-teen, so I say ‘wow, it was just a matter or providing a different kind of attention.’

I’ve had other kids with cancer, with the doctors telling them ‘you can’t move, you can’t walk,” and the girl comes, trains with me, I treat her like I treat everyone else, in front of everyone so she doesn’t feel different. I think that kids never have to feel different than the rest in a dancing environment. So, I treated her the same but clearly, with exercises adapted to her, but she was always part of everything! And I remember that her mother came crying one day and told me the girl had talked to her doctor and he said ‘you’re doing a split, how is that possible, what did you do, where do you dance?’ And the girl, who’s just 11 years old told him ‘you are a doctor but you don’t know my teacher, if you knew my teacher you would understand why I’m not just walking but dancing.’ So, it was really incredible.

And also, kids who came from places of high social risk, they come, they immerse themselves here and end up going to college, and also because very incredible dancers, and start a career in this and they no longer care about the noise of their social environment, they just take their dancing shoes and come to the Academy and they start to surround themselves with a different kind of people.

And that truly is the most beautiful part of dancing, dancing is not just the artistic movements they see on a stage, where we can explore being ourselves, dancing can save lives if we explore it from a human perspective. If you truly say, through this I can truly feel something different, of course, so that to me is the most positive about dancing.

And the most difficult part about dancing is the sacrifice involved with doing it professionally, the sacrifice of missing many valuable things, for example, sometimes you miss meetings with friends, meetings with your family, you lose many things, and if you can’t balance it, you miss a very beautiful and valuable part of life.

I experienced this during a time in which dancing was my entire world and that was wrong, then I told myself ‘you need to find a way to balance this and have a more normal life and have my friends and my parents, have my family without it being a complete sacrifice.’ So it went from being a 100 percent sacrifice to around a 40 percent sacrifice, which is a bit more acceptable, but that part is very hard, and also, opening a path for yourself in an industry in which you have to prove you’re worth it to get paid enough and live from this is very, very hard.

It’s like you have to educate people, companies, media, and all artistic marketing, on how a dancer is worth just like a singer or sometimes even more because he or she has done different things. But of course, to convince people that they can pay you enough to make a living, you’re the first person who has to make a sacrifice.

I remember that in my twenties, all the money I made I saved it to take this seriously and I went to the United States, Switzerland, and Netherlands to train, I went everywhere. I spent all my money on training because I knew that training in other countries, learning from the best, was the only way to be good and come here and say ‘no, this is what I’m worth because I studied all this, because I know all this, and if you want less than that I understand.’

So that part is the most difficult, opening a path in an industry in which just five percent live from this. It’s a very low percentage!

What is the rhythm you like to dance to the most? 

Oh, that’s like asking a Mother ‘which son do you love more?’ That’s a very difficult question! The rhythm I like the most, well, I definitely consider myself a sports dancer, sports dancing is what I do, ballroom dance, Latin ballroom, which has this influence from the US and England, that’s what I do, but I’m also well-trained in lyrical dance and contemporary dance, so it is hard, but if I have to choose what really makes me vibrate, is being in a dance floor dancing ballroom, that’s my favorite.

How would you describe your experience in Dancing with the Stars?   

It’s been a school, it’s been a school for life because I got there with the wrong perspective about what reality television is and along the way, I had to learn a lot, to play the game, to be part of the game, and accept being a player, so I learned a lot about patience, because it is the most important element to survive the stars of the show.

You have to deal with a person you don’t know for many months, you have to be very patient and very giving to teach them with passion and love to make it work, because if you think that you’re training a dancer, you’re out, you’re out.

I’ve also learned that people can hurt you, they can say very hurtful things, and I learned a lot about protecting myself from that, because in the beginning I was very open, I was like, the crowd is beautiful, and all the people, and the media, but no, when I started getting doses of reality, that if I was not what they wanted me to be, when I gave my real opinion in public they destroyed me, they destroyed for many years for different things and I told myself ‘they’re talking about someone I’m not just because I gave my opinion.’ So, I also learned that I had to know how to be myself and be careful. I also learned to survive in a very superficial environment. People demand you to look a certain way, always, and that’s not true, I’m not like that, this is what I am, a person who wears tennis shoes, a cap, and comfortable clothes, and there, it’s all about glamour every Sunday and looking spectacular and perfect but that’s not my reality, at least not mine and I don’t want to maintain like something fake, I realized that it can be a very big influence, so I learned to elevate the positive things I wanted people to follow from someone like me, I take really good care of myself in that aspect, and in Dancing with the Stars I learned to be a public figure with a very private life, I learned that the hard way but l learned it!

It is very important, and what else? I learned that if you are a true professional and work by yourself without having to tear down anyone else you can make valuable friends, because what I treasure the most from Dancing with the Stars and the choreographers because they’re my best friends.

It is incredible how we’ve been there for almost 10 years and they’re my best friends! My best friends are Alhanna, Lucia, Javier, all of them are very valuable to me, we have no problems, we have no rivalries, we compete but no one wants to kill the other, so we prove to ourselves that we can be exposed in a reality show without wanting to be the star, we just want to do a good job and we think is nice when someone else shines as well. Our dream is to see different winners every season, so that’s what I learned. I learned that if you have the will, and the values, you can make any reality show a human experience as well.

And what are some of your favorite Dancing with the Stars choreographies?

Oh, that’s very hard! But I have a good memory, I can remember my most emblematic moments! I think one of my favorites was a dance I with Javier and Renzo in the second season, which is the one I won. The song was Diez mil Maneras, by David Bisbal, which I danced in foxtrot and the choreography was very harmonic, very noble, very pretty, it was about Renzo and Javier wanting to make me happy and take me out to dance so we could be dancing and enjoying, the lyrics of the song are beautiful, so that was one of my most beautiful choreographies because I danced it in a very difficult time of my life, and I remember that on that Sunday I felt fantastic because of what that choreography made me feel!

Another favorite of mine was having danced Pirates of the Caribbean with Peláez, it was awesome, and I enjoyed it a lot, Peláez did an amazing job, he was Jack Sparrow, and the staging was spectacular, I loved it for many reasons!

Another choreography among my favorites was a contemporary dance with Bismarck in the semifinal of one of the seasons, I don’t remember which one, but it was very cool, very strong, it had a big impact on people and it was very special, very emblematic.

I had many choreographies that left a mark, oh and of course, the memorable years, I had a memorable year, also with Peláez, where he talked about immigration and leaving everything behind, having nothing in a new country, and while he talked I cried, I was destroyed because it was also my story, so that night was also memorable for me.

And another special choreography was with Daniel Carvajal, I remember we danced The Mask, and all the staging and the work it involved to make it happen was so hard that once we saw it done it looked almost like the movie so it was very, very cool!

And how do you stay in shape, do you go to the gym, do you have a special diet?

The answer is that I’m never on a diet, I’ve never been on a diet in my life! My day-to-day is a perpetual diet, that’s the real answer, because for people that’s a diet but for me it is my normal lifestyle and it doesn’t require any sacrifice, so it is not a diet!

Since I was very young when I decided to be a dancer I decided to have healthy diet habits because I knew it was the only way to be in shape. So, I’m someone that from a young age doesn’t consume sugar, I don’t consume any sugar, nothing, unless it’s given to me like if someone says ‘hey I brought you a cookie,’ in that case I’ll obviously eat it, or something like that but I will never tell you ‘let’s go get dessert’ or something like that. There’s no sugar in my house, just honey, anyone who wants to go to my house brings his/her own sugar.

There’s no sugar in my house, just honey because I discovered it can be very addictive and very bad and it had ugly repercussions and over the years it was a real drug. I mean sugar in excess is bad, and I don’t consume coffee, it’s my own decision, I don’t like coffee, I’ve never drank alcohol in my life either, I don’t consume alcohol, I don’t get all those calories that alcohol gives, I also don’t eat rice, I love it but I don’t eat it because it’s the only thing I really can’t cook when I cooked it the result was terrible, so I don’t do it and to consume it I have to go out, so I don’t consume it, I also don’t consume bread, for the same reason, because I have to go out and buy the bread, so since I don’t have time to buy any of that I also don’t consume it.

And every time I have to buy my own food I always look for vegetables, salads, proteins, and not fast food. Fast food has a bad effect on my organism! I don’t like it, it gives me an awful feeling, so it’s easier for me to avoid something that doesn’t make me feel well! And in addition to those excellent eating habits I have because of decisions that life has made me take, it’s not like I wake up every day saying ‘I can’t wait to have broccoli today,’ no, I love eating broccoli, so it’s not hard, and in addition to that I train every day with my competition partner César Abarca, we train and besides that I teach classes, and besides that I do staging so with all that I think my body says ‘ok ok I’m active I’m active I’m in shape’ although I should still do a bit more.

There are times when I go to the gym every week and I lift weights and I’m in great shape and there are times in which I manage to stay in shape with a regular lifestyle, but, there’s something very curious that people don’t know and it’s that I’ve had the same weight since I was 18 years old, and right now I’m 34. I’m 34 years old and I have had the same weight since I was 18, I mean I’ve never weighed more than 50 kilograms, well in December, on Christmas I always weigh 51 kilograms, I always gain one kilogram on Christmas but that’s on purpose, I decide to eat all the food my Mom gives me and I go to all the parties they invite me and I know I will gain one kilogram because what I eat is completely different than what I do during the year. So, I weigh 51 kilograms in January and then in February and go back to the usual 50 kilograms. Sometimes I wonder ‘what will happen on the day when Yessenia Reyes weighs 52, 53 kilograms like in normal life?’ ‘What will I weigh when I’m a 40-year-old woman?’ so I ask myself those questions if I will always look the same way.

How much time do you have to prepare for a competition? How do you choose the ones you will join?

As far as the competitions there are two formats, one with the competitions of my academy and company, and then the ones in which go. So, I decide on the ones from my company, in November of the previous year, I see everything that comes to Costa Rica or is outside of Costa Rica and I decide what to do, strategically, with the time, the month, all that, I decide the competitions where the kids will go.

And my own, I choose them with my partner César Abarca and my coach, who is Spanish, we always sit down and outline what we will do for the rest of the year and then we decide, we are going to go to Argentina, Panama, Chile, here and there, and we choose them between us.

The only thing I decide on my own is what happens with the Academy. The competitions of the Academy!

How do you prepare for these competitions?

They’re crazy, they’re completely crazy! That’s really when I don’t exist, I don’t have a life, I don’t have a body, I don’t have a soul, I don’t have my mind, I have nothing because most of the time we go with everything we have, it’s three months of staging, of preparation, we usually participate in around 75 categories, so imagine, we have 48 soloists in different dance modalities, I hire at least seven choreographers in different modalities because it’s clear that the success of any big school is having the humility to accept that you are not good at everything, so I can’t prepare urban dances, if I want my students to be the best I must have a professor who specializes in urban dances.

So that’s the process, you sit down with choreographers, with parents, and see if they agree, and especially the most important is that we have an internal admissions process, so the kids earn everything, depending on how their training went during the year and we prepare like that, with three or four months of staging for the first competition.

Professionally, César and I prepare our routines all year because we have to be ready in case they tell us ‘you have to travel to the other side of the world tomorrow,’ so our routines must be impeccable, so it is a constant that doesn’t stop, it never ends!

Describe the day of a competition

The routines of the competitions are very strict, especially because I demand a lot, I don’t like anything getting out of my hands. As a matter of fact, I have a big problem delegating stuff, because I feel that if I don’t do them they don’t go well but over time I’ve learned that there’s a reason why I have an assistant, people on the team, sub-directors and administrators who can help me, so the logistics are insane, 54 dancers to coordinate, the uniforms have to look impeccable for the competitions, imagine coordinating the uniforms for 79 categories, many of them are in groups, so we ask for 300 custom uniforms, with an insane amount of seamstresses, the logistics are insane, everything has to be ready the week before the competitions, and from there, we are there since early hours because sometimes we begin to compete at 8:00 AM and we finish at 10:00 PM. It’s two days of intense competitions.

After we finish we have two days off because everything is extremely tired after all that! We run a lot, we need to make sure the dancers are ready, the music is sent in advance, we hope nothing fails, and there’s no problem, the responsibility of doing a good job in a competition is indescribable!

How do you manage your nerves?

No, it’s incredible I think I’m defective, I don’t feel nervous! I’m never nervous and I feel terrible, not even when I compete, I don’t feel any nerves and I say ‘why is everyone nervous and I’m not?’ I think it’s because I tell myself that it’s another day to dance so I don’t care about being evaluated, I don’t care about who’s down there, I really just want to dance. In the past, I told myself to manage my emotions but now when I say it is very real and I dance with my heart so I don’t feel nervous, I don’t have to manage nerves, not even in Dancing with the Stars. I do get nervous about my star partners forgetting the choreography but that’s it, no nerves.

But with my students, to help them emotionally, our number one key, our battle banner is that we always say a prayer, always, before every competition, it relaxes them a lot. As a matter of fact, sometimes we are backstage and they go ‘we haven’t prayed, we haven’t prayed’ and they go running and look for me and they need to grab their hands and pray to God and to the Universe and to everything they believe in their minds and they pray that it all goes well, that no shoe goes flying or anyone falls, they share their fears in the prayers and that takes a weight off their shoulders, knowing that God is with us and nothing bad will happen, that’s like our ritual, we do our prayers and remind the kids that we are there dancing and that we’re already prepared that it doesn’t matter what happens.

Something very important that I do in my company, which sadly not many companies do, is take the weight off the kids’ shoulders, telling them that you are already there, that the result doesn’t matter, because if they already made an effort, and they saw it was ok, then it depends on judges and so many things that it doesn’t matter, if they did a good job, great for them because they fought hard to make it well, their opinion matters more than what a judge thinks! So, I tell them, ‘are you happy with what you did? Yes, then we are all happy.’ And I think that’s a very important emotional base for any dancer in development!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to practice a sport, professionally or just to improve their health?

Do it, do it! That’s great advice for those who are already adults, practicing any sport or discipline will definitely change their lifestyle, their perspective, you wake up with a different kind of emotion because you are doing something positive, and really, many studies say it creates something in the body that makes people go to sleep feeling well because they sweat and feel tired, even if everything hurts, it was part of a study about people who practice any discipline.

My most important advice is for the parents with kids between ages three and 17, please make them practice any discipline or sport because it develops more productive, more disciplined humans, more respectful people, why? Because at a young age, they learn that to achieve an objective, you must work hard, to understand something, you need to pay attention, to do something that is hard for you, you must respect the rules, so imagine, if you teach all these moral bases to kids at a young age, of course, they will be productive, worthy human beings in society, especially compared to someone who never had to work hard for anything!

I don’t like it when kids say ‘I have to study all day and that’s it,’ this might not sound well, but thinking only studies can give you success is a waste, is not the right approach, because if for some reason you don’t achieve your goal, whether it’s being first in your class or something like that, then you will be a frustrated young kid, teenager, or adult. There are many things that can define someone’s success, not just your straight-A grades. Besides, I feel that in addition to the friends and teammates in a discipline, having teamwork, respecting your teachers, and seeing your parents’ support, all that is very important when it comes to developing the potential of a young kid or adult! To me, that’s the best decision someone can make!

What made you decide to open this studio?

My desire to see young kids dancing correctly. I always wanted to see kids dancing ballroom here in Costa Rica, because I always saw that online and wondered why kids in Costa Rica only dance ballet, why not Viennese Waltz or ballroom, why not something else? I realized that the only way to see that on a dance floor here was if I did it, and that motivated me a lot!

I was in a transition between starting to teach classes and opening a studio when in 2018 Joaquin Yglesias invited me after seeing young students of mine dancing and he said, I want them dancing on my Christmas show this year. He was surprised after seeing how well they danced at such a young age and that made me think ‘ok, I think I can do this for the rest of my life, I think I can train kids from a young age so people can see them at marvel at that they do’ and that motivated me a lot, knowing that someone sees their value despite their age was incredible, and it opened many doors for them here.

The kids from this company can dance at major venues here like Teatro Nacional, Teatro Melico Salazar, any stadium, concert, or festival. Few things surprise them, sometimes I tell them to get excited because every year they do things that many kids their age have never done! That motivated me, and also, being able to make a positive impact! To me, dance was full of negative ideas like, ‘you have to be the best,’ or ‘you have to step over your teammate to be the best,’ so I felt the responsibility of teaching a more human dance, the idea of not focusing on the outcome, that what matters is if you’re happy, this is a discipline but what matters is what you feel, and I think that while this is a discipline, asking them how they feel is also very important. I feel that asking them how they feel is a big part of the process of becoming great dancers. Also, telling them they can be good in many different things, that they can choose.

This is not a one-genre academy, this is a professional academy that trains seven different genres, so now I realize that this opens the doors of the world to them! I knew this because I lived it in my past, training in many things allowed me to dance anything I wanted because I had no limits, I dominated ecstatic dance, Latin dance, and folkloric dance, I knew how to dance everything and it gave me many opportunities. That’s what I want for this generation of dancers, I want them to be able to go to all sorts of auditions, auditions to musicals, auditions with J Balvin, auditions for The Nutcracker, and the same dancers can go to all of them. That was my objective!

What do you love the most about your time in this Academy?

About my time here, when they come running at me and give me a big hug, and tell me ‘Hi Teacher.’ I enjoy that a lot, I also enjoy when my students send me letters saying stuff like ‘I had a bad day today but I came to the Academy and the day ended amazingly’ and then I go home feeling how my heart melts.

The best is also that I have a lot of fun with them, they might make a joke and we are all part of it, or I can make a joke and we all laugh and enjoy in the middle of the discipline, those moments are just ours, where not even their parents are there, those moments are unique and sometimes I go home and I say ‘that is why I don’t close this place.’

Have you thought about closing this Academy?

Yeah of course, I’ve had very difficult moments in the studio, because clearly this is an unstable startup and you don’t always get the amount of people you need to cover the expenses or not everyone acts like you wanted them to or thought they would, sometimes they can hurt you, so you say ‘I don’t deserve, I didn’t train to deal with this, I trained to dance.’

But then I understood and made peace with the idea that having a studio was not just about teaching dance, but also administering, doing some customer service, and all that, so I made peace and everything improved. I really need to hear certain opinions and accept that certain things were part of having a studio but that difficulty is put way to the side when you have magical moments with them, even if they last one minute, when they do something incredible and make me think ‘that’s why I’m still in this.’

And what are your goals for this Academy?

In reality, my biggest goal is to be an integral study in Costa Rica where people say, ‘ok I want to learn salsa, bachata, ballet, urban dances, and ballroom but in the same place and in a proper manner,’ and to be the best option and not because I say but because the accomplishments of our students say that when they go on a stage and others say ‘I want to dance like them.’ That’s my objective, to be the first academy of integral formation in Costa Rica, that’s a dream come true, to see that the dancers of the future come from here and that they say ‘I went to Yessenia Reyes Dance Studio and now I dance here, I dance here, I dance here.’ And those opportunities for dance amplitude are my main objective.

And the second objective, and the most important one is create a refugee for dancers in training, a place where they’re not afraid, a place where they can feel safe, where once we close the door they can be themselves, if someone makes fun of their weight they will deal with me, whether it’s other students or parents, anyone, if someone makes fun of how they look they will deal with the rules of the Academy, where they can share their opinions respectfully without being judged, where they can truly feel this place is the best thing that happened to them during the day after their house, their classes, their school or anything, because they could genuinely explore themselves, and that it gives their best experiences, the best hugs between teammates, the best congratulations between teachers and the best personal pride, so I think that by creating a place that gives them all that you’re creating growth and protection so when their adults they can remember that they were able to have a small environment where they could explore very positive thing and that is something we practically don’t have.

Sometimes going to soccer is stressful, and going to taekwondo is stressful, so I don’t want them to think that coming to the Dance Academy is stressful, I want it to be a beautiful experience. And I make a big effort to make sure this happens!

Speaking of Joaquin Yglesias, how was the recent experience with him in Italy?

God, it was crazy! Ok, it was one of the first surprises that 2024 gave me, Joaquin is one of the most impressive artists that Costa Rica has, he is so clear with his objectives that when he sets his mind on something he accomplishes it! So he wrote me in December, we talked in December and he said, ‘I want to make a trip to Italy next year.’

We were in an unplanned lunch and he invited me and I said that of ‘course I want to go,’ but when he told me next year I never thought it was going to be three weeks later, that it was in January, I mean when Joaquin said ‘are you available to travel at the end of January?’ I was like ‘What? How?’

We all had to prepare in a matter of weeks, we had to listen to his record, I had to do all the choreographic work of an entire record, because we were not going to record just one video, Joaquin is very ambitious, he wanted to record a video for every song, and not in just one city, he wanted to go to different cities of Italy, I told him ‘Joaquin this is crazy what are you thinking?,’ and he was like ‘I want this in Rome, this is in Trastevere, this in Florence, Venice, in Siena, in Verona’ Oh God it was an ambitious project that he made possible along many incredible people who supported him, companies who made this possible, he’s the first Costa Rican to do something so strong so historic and for me it was an honor to be called to be part of a big production like this, it was incredible, the whole trip was a dream, we arrived in Paris and started the adventure from there, you are part of a project in Europe, and it will be part of my career, of my resume and you are in the public eye, in the eye of the storm, recording a tour in Italy it’s impressive.

But I got distracted with the day-to-day routine there, I forgot that I was part of something so big, like for example when he said ‘Yess, tomorrow we have to be ready at 7:00 AM,’ I was like ‘Joaquin to be ready at 7:00 AM I have to wake up at 4 to get ready because I was the only one who had to dance live, everyone else already recorded their stuff for the most part and they only had to move a bit with the instruments, pretending to play because they already recorded in a studio.

I had to dance and look good and it was a big sacrifice, getting ready to perform at that time every day, and then when I checked the phone and saw the weather outside and saw we were at -1 degrees, and I looked at my clothes I got really scared, I said to myself ‘how am I removing all the thermal clothes I’m wearing at -1 degrees no no it’s impossible,’ it was -1 degrees, those small dresses with small suspenders, dresses for dancers, no that part was very difficult, I mean people watch the finished product and think it’s incredible and I do too, but it was one of my biggest sacrifices as a dancer, I had to put aside my instinct to take care of myself because of the cold and I had to be as professional as possible and I did some breathing and concentration exercises to be able to record the takes without shaking because my body was trembling so much that you could see me shaking, so I had to focus, run around the plazas to stay a bit warm, and after just five minutes my ankles bent because I couldn’t feel my feet so we had to cut because I couldn’t dance, it was hard, the weather was hard, and when Joaquin said ‘done, we finished recording we are ready to go enjoy the city, I felt relief put my 80 coats on and was able to go eat in Venice with my friends and have a good time and say ‘wow what an experience.’

They treated us well, the locations, the hotels, the restaurants, everything was first class and now that I’m here and remember this it was truly a privilege to have an experience like that, the Italy tour, the first video has already been released and it’s been very successful, it’s called Arrivederci Roma, where the record starts, they’ll release the videos often throughout the year. It’s nine videos and after seeing the finished product it was worth it, everything, it was a cherry on top of my career.

Can you list your three favorite trips?

I love to travel, I don’t say this much because I feel that it doesn’t sound well but it’s my favorite therapy. I make a big effort so I can do it, I organize my time properly, is not like I say ‘I’m going tomorrow,’ I organize everything so I can do this emotional therapy, I studied communications and obviously during college I studied a lot of history, a lot of art, and a lot of cultures and I fell in love, I fell in love with the world that I read, so at a very young age I decided, because as a fun fact, I got to college when I was 16 years old, I was very young, I graduated at 21 because in El Salvador, the education system back then allowed me to enter pre-school at age 4 and I got in but for some reason the class was full and they sent me to first grade at once to experiment in my generation along with other girls at age 4 I was in first-grade learning to write vowels and I never had to repeat a year, I actually developed my young brain very fast and I graduated high school when I was 15. At age 16 I was in college, it was crazy, my parents didn’t Iet me go anywhere, I was a minor, and my teammates didn’t like to work in groups with me because I had to ask permission for everything and I graduated at age 21 with a degree in Communications. I still felt like a baby, to me a 21-year-old is still a baby and I already graduated, and since then I had this history, culture, and art chip and that’s why I started to save money to see the world!

Egypt is definitely at the top of my list, I feel that I was an Egyptian in another life, I’m sure, I was related to Cleopatra, Egypt has something that I thought was incredible since I studied, researched, and read about it, I felt it was incredible, so biblical, so historical, so impressive so I said ‘I want to go to Egypt, I want to go to the Museum in Cairo, and it was like that, every place I visited there changed my life, I cried, I couldn’t believe it, I was so emotionally invested with that trip that I couldn’t stop crying at every templem when I saw Tutankhamun’s mummy, they surprised me, they told me to close my eyes, no one wanted to tell me anything and suddenly I opened my eyes and I was in front of the Nile River and I was thinking ‘God, Moses was here, I mean, this was mentioned in the Bible, how does this place have so much history?’ the borders have desert, the river has water, then there’s a desert, water. Egypt changed me completely, it’s been my favorite place.

From there, also Morocco. I fell in love with the Sahara Desert, I had unique experiences in life, I slept with the nomads in the desert, yeah, I made some crazy things in life that people say ‘Yessenia dear God.’

Most of my extraordinary trips were by myself because I always thought that if I waited for someone to go with me then I didn’t go, so I always go myself, in a responsible manner, taking care of myself, I don’t do anything crazy or against my integrity as I’m going alone as a woman, Egypt, Morocco, Nepal, Nepal also, it changed my culture, the spiritual of that trip, India with big contrasts between the rich and the poor, I learned a lot from those cultures, I always wanted to go to the Himalayas, I always wanted to see Mount Everest, I always wanted to learn about all the Gods and the spiritual aspects behind the lives of the people in this part of Asia, and in fact it was like that, I learned the value of life that the Tibetan monks taught me, about material possessions, I’ve been fortunate to travel to realize how little I have,  that’s what has changed my life.

What’s a place that everyone has to visit at least once in a lifetime?

Top, Egypt, I think that Egypt has it all, it has cities, it has culture, it has history, you see things from 4,000 years ago, you see new things, you find people who live rooted to their time, I was in Alexandria, where you say ‘ok, Cleopatra was here, so many important people, Alexander the Great, all those historical influences, Egypt definitely has magic, and I think everyone should experience something like that, because you have seas, deserts, the Red Sea, the deserts, the city, the temples, it has it all, Egypt has it all!

Which countries are on your travel bucket list?    

Ireland and Scotland, are my next dreams, Ireland and Scotland, I’m going to say something I shouldn’t say, but I don’t know why I always thought I wanted to go to Ireland with the love of my life, very in love, that’s why I haven’t been there, I always avoid it, I go to England, I go next to Ireland but I always escape, I don’t go there because I always feel that it’s one place, the only place that I have to visit with a significant other, I don’t know what I’ll find in Dublin or where that I have to go with a partner,  and that’s why haven’t been to Ireland, I still need to go Ireland, I think I’ll up going by myself based on how things are going lol, yeah.

Ireland, I believe a lot in Celtic culture, I love Celtic music, I love it, I believe in elves, in fairies, Irish mythology fascinates me, so Ireland and Scotland, I love the castles and history of the Scottish castles, the music, the bagpipes, all of that seems so medieval that I think that would be my dream destiny.

What do you do in your spare time?

Spare time what is that? What are you saying? In my spare time, I love to go to the movies with all my heart, it’s my favorite activity on the planet, I love it when they tell me let’s go to the movies and to eat, I love it when they tell me let’s go out to eat, let’s go out to eat is my favorite invitation, I don’t like it when they tell me let’s go dance, let’s go to a nightclub. Tell me let’s go out to eat because I love the experience of sitting down to eat something delicious and talk, that fills my soul and, I love movies, I love, love watching movies, my perfect spare time would be to go to the movies, get home and watch more movies and tv shows and don’t get up from bed and stay watching a Harry Potter marathon or something like that, I love it, I love watching tv shows, being in family all in front of the tv I love it, I love that idea too, it’s cozy for me, my spare time at home or in small places is my absolute happiness!

What is your biggest accomplishment so far?

I think that although it’s not my favorite, I would say my biggest accomplishment is being in Dancing with the Stars because it’s the platform that made all of Costa Rica notice what I did, it was the platform for everyone to see the dancer, the artist and the potential I could give, and that definitely helped me get the big things I got after it, all because they saw me in Dancing with the Stars and the work I did there, and because it wasn’t just once, I do it all the time, every year, one after another, I’m still very present there, in the projects of someone else, so that gives me more beautiful projects and work and beautiful things, but all because thanks to starting in Dancing with the Stars at a very young age and because I stayed in the project. Like I’m telling you, it’s not my favorite but it is my biggest accomplishment.

My favorite is this Academy, this Academy is definitely my biggest accomplishment.

And what are your aspirations for the future?

I’m clear on that, on what I want, I want to be a pioneer in Latin ballroom with my partner César Abarca, I want to be one of the first couples that takes Costa Rica to the best dance floors in the world, we already started taking the first steps, we are in the first Opens in Central and South America, because we obviously have to be federated and meet many requirements to keep advancing, but we are blazing an incredible trial and I want other couples to do the same after us and take the name of Costa Rica to those specific dance floors, I dream, I hope that in a few years we can go to the Blackpool, one of the most important Latin ballroom competitions in Europe, and taking your flag there would be a massive achievement, very impressive.

I already lived that on a small scale in Buenos Aires last year, where no one from Central America had made it to those competitions, and when the host said our country, he looked at us and his face was saying ‘wow I can’t believe they exist,’ and we went to the parade of standard bearers with our flag by ourselves and they said ‘From Costa Rica,’ and you hear, ‘couple number’ and I don’t even know what number we were, and we were crying because people stood up when they realized we were like the Cinderella of that competition, we were a small country, and not only did we went, but we went and did an excellent job, we finished in the top 8 of the competition it was a dream, it was the first time and everyone remembered us, and everyone got close to us and we have videos because people recorded us and it was something that made us say ‘we want this for the rest of our lives on a bigger scale.’ So that’s my professional goal with sports dancing.

Eduardo Solano