Photos by Hanna Jane Stradinger
You know those women who carry themselves so beautifully that you see them and think she must be a dancer? Then you make a mental note to perfect your posture so you too can look like a ballerina, which goes well until the 3 o’clock slump has you sliding down lower and lower in your desk chair until you can barely see your computer screen. (Tangent! Keep reading for posture tips from an expert.)
Juliana Beladera falls into the category of gorgeously poised ladies. Her name alone sounds like it belongs to a dancer: light and graceful, rolling off the tongue as elegantly as a plié.
She began her dance career at the age of 3. From the get-go she was trained by a professional ballerina, Alicia Chodera, who also happens to be her mother. Chodera owns three dance studios in Stuart, Florida, specializing in ballet.
Beladera also trained at The Rock School, Orlando Ballet School and The Joffrey Ballet School in New York.
“At that point, I was doing ballet the most every day and I knew I didn’t want to do that professionally forever,” Beladera said.
After high school graduation, she moved to New York City to attend The Fashion Institute of Technology.
Between marketing and advertising classes, she danced with the FIT Dance Company and frequently took class at Steps on Broadway and Broadway Dance Center. This is where she was exposed to the glitz of the New York dance scene, and fell in love with theater, tap and jazz.
“I really didn’t realize how much I loved performing and wanted to do that until I was exposed to it in New York,” she said.
After graduating from college, she realized she wanted to make a career out of performing. She was accepted into the esteemed Steps Conservatory Program, studying intensely with New York’s most prominent teachers and choreographers, including Chet Walker, Dana Moore, Randy Skinner, Billy Griffin, Debbie Roshe and Germaine Goodson, to name a few. While immersing herself in every technique and style of dance during her time at Steps, as well as acquiring the numerous techniques and skills in acting and voice, versatility became one of her strongest skills.
She spent five years in the city before relocating to Houston early this year. She continues to audition for shows and teaches fitness classes at premier studios around the city.
I had a few pressing questions to ask someone with such an incredible skill set and athletic prowess. A transcription from our FaceTime interview is below, lightly edited for clarity.
Q: Tell us honestly: is it stressful trying to support yourself financially as a dancer?
A: Generally it depends on where you’re living. If you’re in New York, L.A. or Miami, or even Chicago or Boston, cost of living is a lot higher. Living in Houston hasn’t been stressful. Cost of living has been lower and studios pay workout teachers a pretty high rate per class, especially if you work at a large club or luxurious gym. Teaching is very flexible for when you do book a show, which is why a lot of dancers teach as their job.
Most shows and theaters pay really well. If it’s non-equity, it won’t be as much. It depends on the gig, but most pay well, so if you can’t teach for a 4-6 month period, you make up for it.
Q: Have you dealt with body image issues as a dancer?
A: So many women, and I’m sure men as well, deal with that in the dance industry, and in so many other industries. I personally never have had an issue with body image or food or weight. Thankfully, my mind was always on being healthy and fit — not skinny. Also, everyone is different genetically, and I’m smaller-framed. My parents are that way, I eat healthy and I’m active. But I’ve definitely experienced it with people around me. It’s really sad because a lot of the time it’s in their heads and not a real fact. If I had to give advice, I’d say be true to yourself and realize you’re strong and need to be healthy, because you’re an athlete. using the word skinny feels negative. Every athlete and woman should say ‘my goal is to be healthy and fit and the best version of me.’
Q: You have a really cool website with your resume, photos, and theater clips. How important is the business side of dance when going after gigs?
A: The business side of dance is just as important as the creative artistic side. I think a lot of people let that slide. You need to be professional and on time, you need to be organized, you need to have proper etiquette in the studio, you need to look professional. And you need to be prepared.
Q: What are some tips you have for non-dancers in achieving posture half as poised as yours?
A: Exercise! Taking lots of pilates and yoga especially, and barre! Ballet really helps with posture as well and most dance studios have adult ballet and beginner classes anyone can take. It all helps with your alignment and posture.
Q: What are some tough times you’ve gone through as a dancer?
A: I think everyone in this industry experiences a lot of ‘no’s’, a lot of rejection. That’s just a given. You just have to stay motivated and keep working hard and putting yourself out there. You can only control so much, especially with auditions. You just have to be strong and have a positive outlook and know that you’re unique…no one else looks like you, or is you.
Q: What’s your schedule like now?
A: I teach at Equinox, The Preserve, Studio Fitness and Metropolitan Dance Center. Usually I teach 3-5 classes a day and I like to take classes most days, too. Sundays are my day off for my body.
Houston’s Theater Under the Stars season is about to start. Those auditions are coming up for the rest of the shows, and they have a show almost every month or every other month. They also travel to L.A. and New York as well.
I’m also auditioning for a cruise ship. The audition is in New Orleans. I’ve auditioned 5 times and made it to the finals 3 times, so I’m like ‘ok hire me!!’
Q: Why did you leave New York?
A: I left NY for a multitude of reasons. Definitely a change of scenery and pace but more so I was really burnt out. It’s very expensive as well. I wanted a break and to check out the dance scene in Florida and Houston and travel around for auditions. I also wanted to dance on a cruise ship after graduating which I’ve been auditioning for still, that’s what the NOLA audition is for! I’d go back to NYC for work like if a show brought me there, I would not want to live there full time again though. Just for temporary visits/part time.
Q: Do you consider yourself an athlete?
A: I think dancers are artists and athletes combined. Because you really need to be creative and you use your body….the movement is beautiful and in a way you’re telling a story.
Dance is so athletic. People don’t realize the training and how rigorous it is. You have to train for a long time consistently, and you use every muscle in your body. Plus, you have to eat well and treat your body right.
Q: What else is next for you?
A: I’m thinking about applying to physical therapy school. Dance also geared me toward physical therapy since I had an injury. In a few years, that’s what I want to do as my full time job. I think I’ll also always teach and dance, with the possibility of taking over my mom’s dance studio.