Photo by Susan Kahn
Every other Friday evening, Chelsea Santiago ’19 can be found in Ryan Studio demonstrating isolations, popping and locking, and other hip-hop dance moves. By day, Santiago works as an admission counselor, but in her free time, she teaches students choreographed hip-hop routines.
“I wanted to create an outlet for students to not only be able to learn new choreography but also grow as dancers,” she says. Her workshops are open to all levels; no experience is needed. “I always like to emphasize at the beginning that these are judgment-free spaces.”
The classes attract students from different backgrounds, inviting them to partake in a shared dancing experience. Santiago begins each workshop by welcoming both familiar and new faces, reiterating that the purpose of the 90-minute session is to have fun. Leading with rhythmic stretches, Santiago transitions into teaching choreography for popular songs.
The Arizona native graduated with a double major in political science and psychological science. During her time as a student, Santiago supplemented her academics with several extracurriculars, such as the Spanish Language Debate Society and the Konosioni Senior Honor Society. However, one of the most impactful activities she participated in on campus, she says, was dance. “Dance has been a huge part of my identity during my time at Colgate. They don’t call me ‘Dancefest Queen’ for nothing.”
Santiago was a part of four student-led dance organizations: the DDT Hip-Hop group, Latin American Dance (LAD), Colgate Dance Team, and MELANATED. By her sophomore year, she was already choreographing entire routines, and in her senior year, she became the leader of LAD and MELANATED. She went on to display her pieces in the biannual Dancefest event, while also participating in other performances throughout the semesters. Santiago even joined a select few of the University’s dancers to perform for former Vice President Joe Biden during his campus visit in 2017.
Santiago’s infatuation with dance and its many styles emerges from her Latin roots. “Growing up in a Mexican household, it was hard not to dance. Dancing is in my blood, and you could always see me dancing to traditional Latin dances such as cumbia and merengue at family gatherings,” she says. In high school, Santiago joined a dance and step team called VIBE, performing at school events and pep rallies. “I started to take dance more seriously. I took a dance class where I learned more of the basics of ballet, jazz, and contemporary dance.”
Now, hip-hop is the style that Santiago is most drawn to, but she says she would love to continue teaching classes and, in the future, open her own studio with class instruction of every form of dance.
“Dancing is my passion, and being able to continue doing it allows for me to center myself, no matter what else might be going on in the world. People can come together no matter what skin tone you are, what background you come from, or what experience you have, and that’s the beauty of it all.”