All Eyes On Chantel

“The first time I saw Chantel Aguirre dance was in a video,” recalls choreographer Travis Wall. “My first thought was that she had crazy lines. My next thought was that I wanted to meet her.” A few months later, Wall did meet Chantel, who was 18 at the time and working as an assistant at a convention. “She was quiet and reserved, but she was excited to learn,” he says. “She was trained and hungry for work—she wanted to get her hands on any step, phrase or piece of choreography.”

Travis Wall and Chantel backstage at "Dancing with the Stars"

Last year, when Wall was asked to choreograph a piece for the Macy’s “Stars of Dance” segment on “Dancing with the Stars,” he rounded up his go-to group of strikingly talented dance friends, including Jaimie Goodwin, Danny Tidwell, Nick Lazzarini and Tiler Peck—and he brought in newcomer Chantel. “Since that job, I’ve hired her for every single project I’ve done,” Wall says. “Chantel does whatever you ask of her and more. She’s the most professional dancer I know and she’s always full-out. She has become my go-to person.”

Wall isn’t the only choreographer who has fallen for Chantel’s quirky, ballet-based style. When Billy Bell formed his own company, Lunge Dance Collective, Chantel was one of his first members. “When I first saw her dance, I felt like I was stuck in one of those movies where everything around you freezes,” says Bell, who met Chantel when she was assisting Sonya Tayeh on “So You Think You Can Dance.” “She has this way of controlling a room with her focus that creates a timeless quality to her movement. It’s like she’s floating.”

So what is it about this 22-year-old that has the industry’s top choreographers dying to hire her? We sat down with Chantel to find out.

Ballet Beginnings

Chantel is one of those dancers who quite literally grew up in a dance studio. Her mother, also a dancer, owned Ballet Repertoire Theatre in Santa Cruz, CA, and Chantel was in dance classes by the time she was 2. It didn’t take long for Chantel to become hooked on dancing. “My mom’s studio was an amazing little competition studio, but I knew I wanted more—I wanted to do this forever,” she says.

Photo by Nathan Sayers

She trained in all styles at Ballet Repertoire Theatre, but Chantel wanted to focus on ballet. At 11 she enrolled at The Studio of Classical Ballet, also in Santa Cruz. “It was always reiterated to me that you need solid technique and strong ballet skills no matter what sort of dance career you want to have,” she says. In search of more intense training, Chantel auditioned for the San Francisco Ballet School during her freshman year of high school. “That’s when everything changed,” she says. “I was surrounded by the best dancers in Santa Cruz, but I was getting complacent. I wanted to keep getting better, and I knew I had to go beyond Santa Cruz for that to happen.”

Chantel remembers being “totally terrified” at the SFB audition. “Everyone knew the combinations already because they had been in the school for years, and I wasn’t even wearing the right color to the audition,” she says. “I got corrected every time I did something and the teacher was on me during every exercise.” To her surprise—“They must have seen potential or something,” she says—Chantel was accepted to the school as a level-six student (out of eight levels).

Always Wanting More

Throughout high school, Chantel attended academic classes until 1 pm every day, and then she would commute three hours round-trip for four hours’ worth of classes—all on pointe—at SFB. The work was challenging, but Chantel’s drive and motivation never waned. In fact, she became more ambitious. “I didn’t want to sacrifice my other training and just do ballet,” she says. So on the side, the already busy girl performed with the Dance Company of San Francisco, a troupe of young artists that included future “So You Think You Can Dance” alums Nick Lazzarini and Melody Lacayanga.

The company, directed by Chris Jacobsen and Sonya Tayeh, entered local competitions, performing mostly contemporary routines. “Competing with the company taught me that competitions don’t have to be all glitz, glamour and sequins,” Chantel says. “We were really serious about performing, not about the awards.”

Chantel did her homework in the car going to and from rehearsals, and she admits to getting “very little sleep” at the time. But this commitment to learning, training and latching on to every possible resource is what sets Chantel apart from other dancers. “My mom raised me with the belief that if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, just do as much as you can. And I wanted to do everything possible,” she says.

Chantel in the City

Photo by Nathan Sayers

After graduating from high school, Chantel was ready to conquer the professional dance world—but she didn’t know where to start. “The hardest decision I’ve faced in my career was deciding where to go after high school,” she says. She spent some time living with Tayeh in L.A. while she faced the ever-stressful “L.A. vs. NYC” debate. Though she says she was “too scared” to just move to NYC, ultimately that’s what she did, enrolling at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts as a dance major, with a minor in business.

Chantel lived in the NYU dorms, took dance and academic classes and continued auditioning for commercial and industrial work through her Clear Talent Group agency representation. During her freshman year at NYU, she performed as a dancer in the televised Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show and booked a two-week performance job at a film festival in Dubai. It was all good—but it was also too much.

“I was just going through the motions,” Chantel says. “I loved school and I loved training, but I was missing jobs and auditions that I desperately wanted. I had so many conflicts, and I needed to make a decision.” Chantel credits her year and a half at NYU as her “segue into NYC,” but she didn’t want to turn down paying jobs while her family struggled to pay for her to be in school. She took a leave of absence from college, moved into an apartment on the Lower East Side and began her full-time dance career. Soon she was performing at the MTV Video Music Awards with Taylor Swift and dancing with Justin Giles’ SoulEscape company.

The Timeless Dancer

Without rigorous academic demands, Chantel fully immersed herself in dance classes and auditions. She spent another year and a half in NYC and then got a call from Tayeh, who was forming her own company in L.A. and wanted Chantel to be part of the group’s first show. “Chantel is such a determined dancer—of course I wanted her with us,” Tayeh recalls. “She’s spirited and has so much heart, and her dancing is regal and lovely. She’s well-rounded and eager. That’s what makes a timeless dancer.” For Chantel, the move came at the right time. “I loved NYC, but my lease was up, so I packed a few things, figuring I’d go out for the show and then come back to NYC,” she says. But things didn’t go according to her plan: Right after Tayeh’s show wrapped, Chantel got a call to audition for the 2010 Academy Awards, and the L.A. job offers snowballed from there.

“Performing at the Academy Awards was unbelievable,” Chantel says. “I remember standing onstage during a commercial break, waiting to perform, and Sandra Bullock was sitting right in front of me, looking at me. I stood on that stage and suddenly everything made sense. I knew I wasn’t going back to New York.”

Chantel performing with Billy Bell's Lunge Dance Collective

Since moving back to California, Chantel has performed on “Dancing with the Stars” five times and at the Video Music Awards with Florence and the Machine. She is a member of Billy Bell’s Lunge Dance Collective and Travis Wall’s Shaping Sound Dance Company, was a featured dancer in Cristina Perri’s “Jar of Hearts” music video, performed at the Billboard Awards with Beyoncé, danced at the Macy’s Passport fashion shows and worked as a member of the skeleton crew for Step Up 4. Plus Chantel takes classes (“nonstop,” she says) at EDGE Performing Arts Center and Millennium Dance Complex, and has started teaching at local studios and setting competition routines on younger dancers.

As Chantel continues to work hard and hone her ever-growing list of skills, the world is taking notice. When Wall held auditions for his company late last year, Chantel arrived amid hundreds of other dancers. “She stood next to Jaimie Goodwin—and everyone knows Jaimie is my favorite female dancer—but Chantel just roasted everyone in the room,” Wall says. “She blew the audition out of the water. In the past year and a half, Chantel has come into a spot where everyone in L.A. knows who she is. All eyes are on her.”

Chantel’s Fast Facts

Birthday: May 6, 1989

Hometown: Scotts Valley, CA

Most-played artist on her iPod: James Blake

Favorite books: The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge, MD

Favorite TV show: “Dexter”

Favorite movies: Kill Bill, Andre (“the one about the seal”), Inglourious Basterds and A Little Princess

Favorite food: Sushi

Favorite dance step: “Can I say the ‘bend and snap’?!”

Dance crush: Robert Roldan

If you could work with any performer, past or present, who would it be? Dwight Rhoden. “I took a summer workshop with Dwight and Desmond Richardson, and they blew my mind. They are both such exceptionally talented geniuses. They teach

a way my body wants to move, but I’m not quite there yet.”

If I wasn’t a dancer I’d be… “A surgeon. It’s incredible the way people can repair the human body. When I was younger I always wanted to be a doctor or a veterinarian. I used to put Band-Aids on my cat!”

Dance dream job: “I’d like to be in a professional contemporary ballet company someday, touring internationally. It’s not about the money for me—it’s about the creation and the positive environment.”

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What’s in Your Dance Bag—Based on Your Zodiac Sign

Sometimes our dance bags feel like portals to another dimension—we have no idea what half the stuff buried in our bags even is. (Note to self: Clean out dance bag.)

But have you ever wondered if there's a method to the madness? We're pretty sure there is, and as always, we're pretty sure it's something to do with astrology. That's right, your resident Dance Spirit astrologers are back with our best guess at what you keep in your dance bag—based on your zodiac sign.

Aries

You're always going 100 mph Aries (or maybe even more), so it's pretty much a guarantee that your dance bag is fully stocked with snacks to power you through the day. Granola bars, trail mix, yogurt, fruit. It's like a Whole Foods in there.

You've also usually got about six different pairs of shoes in your bag. As an Aries, you love adventure, trying new things and, most of all, a challenge. So when it comes to classes, you're all over the map. Tap, jazz, ballet, character, modern—you'll try them all.

Something else you won't go without? Your signature red lipstick, obv. How else are you going to show off your fiery personality? (And look amazing while doing it, TYSM.)

Taurus

As a child of Venus, you always want to look your best, Taurus. So your dance bag is a hair salon/makeup station, all in one. If your dance besties need to borrow a hair tie, or are looking for a fun accessory to spice up their bun, they know you're the one to go to.

Also important to you? Smelling your best. Taureans love comforting, luxurious scents, so your dance bag is typically equipped with a favorite perfume or deodorant. (Or both.)

But what's most important is the bag itself—admit it, you've been using the same dance bag for years. We get it, Taurus, nobody likes change, and least of all the stubborn bull of the zodiac. But if your dance bag is really starting to smell like feet (or if your bobby pins are starting to slip through the holes in the bottom), you might want to consider investing in a new bag.

Gemini

Gemini, you love to switch it up. So you're pretty much guaranteed to have at least three different dance fits in your bag at any given time. And your dancewear is always on point. You love to keep up with trends and try edgy, new looks.

Ever the intellect, you usually have a book in your bag, as well. You're always making book recs to your fellow dancers, and you refuse to be bored between rehearsals or backstage.

Though you might act carefree, Gemini, we know that at heart, you're ruled by Mercury—and you have more in common with your sister sign Virgo than you'd like to admit. That's why you always have a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some floss in your dance bag. No way you're getting caught with food between your teeth (or bad breath during partnering class).

Cancer

Not to be obvious, but as a water sign, the first and foremost thing a Cancerian keeps in their dance bag? A water bottle, of course. (Preferably a Hydroflask, S'well or any bottle that comes in a fun color.) No dehydration here, please and thank you.

Your dance bag also functions as a de facto vending machine for your dance besties, since you always come prepared with the best snacks, and you're always willing to share. As a bonus, your snacks are almost always homemade, since you're practically a five-star chef.

And while we're wary of zodiac stereotypes, there is a pretty good chance your dance bag is stocked with tissues. And there's no shame in that—because, really, who can get through a performance of Romeo and Juliet without shedding some tears? Props to you for being in touch with your emotions, Cancer.

Leo

We'll state the obvious, Leo. You love to look at yourself, and sometimes the studio mirrors just aren't enough. So, naturally, you always keep a compact mirror in your dance bag, just in case your makeup or your bun needs an extra touch-up.

You also love bright colors, and you're not afraid to wear more daring dancewear than any of your besties. You've usually got a couple of leotards packed in your bag, just in case you need to make a fashion statement, and they're always fun. Bright colors, loud prints, stylish necklines—you'll try anything.

But something not everyone knows about you? You're an amazing friend, and incredibly loyal, Leo. That's why you've usually got something in your bag for your dance bestie, be it her favorite brand of granola bar, a fun sparkly pin for her hair, or a note reminding her she's a star, on and off the stage.

Virgo

You're incredibly hardworking, Virgo, so you've always got the tools for success in your dance bag. TheraBands, foam rollers, tennis balls—you're the one dancer your teacher can always count on to be stretching between classes.

You also love to be prepared, so you've usually got a makeshift first-aid kit in your bag. The thought of suffering a blister or floor burn without the appropriate salves or bandages makes you shudder, and, hey, it's always better to be overprepared, right?

What's most noticeable about your dance bag, though, isn't what's inside of it. It's what it looks like—your bag is pristine. It never smells like feet, and you've got a hard-core system for what you keep in each little zip pocket or compartment. And TBH, all of your dance friends are jealous, though they'd never admit it.

Libra

Like your sister sign Taurus, appearances are important to you, Libra. You like to look good (no shame in that), so your dance bag is always stocked with the essentials: extra hair spray, lip gloss, concealer, bobby pins and a spare leotard, in case you get just a bit too sweaty.

You also love to socialize, so if this were the 1950s, we would say that you always keep your date book in your dance bag. As it is, you always have your phone with you, and it's usually blowing up with texts from your dance besties asking to make plans.

Your dance bag wouldn't be complete without your secret supply of chocolate. But to be clear: This isn't your average Hershey's bar. Libras aren't afraid to indulge, so you keep a bar of luxury dark chocolate tucked away for when the cravings hit.

Scorpio

You can't fool us, Scorpio—the contents of your dance bag aren't some big mystery, like you'd like us all to believe. In fact, they're pretty basic: For starters, you always have a black leotard or two in your bag. After all, black is your signature color.

One thing that isn't in Scorpio's dance bag? Toe pads. You love to look tough, so you'd never be caught dead wearing toe pads with your pointe shoes. However, this does mean you need a hefty supply of Band-Aids for the inevitable blisters.

You also love all things mystical and, dare we say, witchy. You're the Halloween queen of the zodiac, after all! So it's no surprise you always have a crystal or two in the front pocket of your dance bag. Let us guess…moldavite?

Sagittarius

You're an explorer, Sagittarius, and that applies to your dancing. You're always trying new dance styles, and that's reflected in your dance bag. You always have the trappings of your latest obsession in your bag: heeled shoes for ballroom, kneepads for contact improv, sneakers for breaking, the list goes on and on.

But on all of your adventures, there's one consistency: You love making memories. And that means literally—you document everything. At each performance or recital, you're bound to be the one with a Polaroid or disposable camera in your bag, and you can usually be found snapping backstage candids of your dance besties.

Your other favorite form of documenting? Writing it down. You love to learn, so you're always taking notes. You can usually be found after class scribbling down your dance teacher's latest piece of wisdom. Your dance bag is crammed with half-filled notebooks, and you wouldn't have it any other way.

Capricorn

You like to be prepared, Capricorn. And we mean prepared—for every bad scenario imaginable. That's why your dance bag is a mini survival kit. The first Capricorn dance bag guarantee? A stitch kit, of course. Losing a ribbon on your pointe shoe mid-rehearsal is your worst nightmare.

You also always have at least three spare leotards handy. After all, what if you spill something, or get too sweaty or, worst of all, show up to an audition in the same leotard as your dance rival? No, thank you. As a Capricorn, you're expecting the best and preparing for the worst.

Another key to your survival kit? Headphones, so you can drown out the noise around you and focus on your dancing. And before anyone asks, the answer is yes, you have the perfect playlist—for each and every occasion.

Aquarius

Aquarius, you love helping others. That's why it sometimes seems like your dance bag isn't even for you—it's filled with stuff you bring for your friends. Snacks for one dance bestie, Band-Aids for another, and tampons, of course, just in case anyone needs one.

But when it comes to you, you're all about originality. That's why you always have tons of fun accessories in your bag: striped legwarmers, colorful socks, tie-dyed sweats and more than a couple of fun additions to your ballet bun, just to make it a little more interesting.

You're also a rebel at heart, Aquarius, which is why there's usually something in your dance bag that just borders on breaking the rules. Maybe your studio is strictly black leotards only—and yours is gray. Or phones are completely banned—and you just put yours on vibrate. We see you.

Pisces

Like your fellow water sign Cancer, you're big on hydrating during dance class. But as a Pisces, you're a little more imaginative (and a little less practical), meaning you're usually carrying your water in something aesthetically pleasing, like a mason jar, a tumbler, or one of those fancy water bottles with a crystal in the base.

Unlike Cancer, you're a mutable sign, meaning you can adapt to just about any situation. Counterintuitively, this actually means your dance bag is pretty sparse. Unlike other zodiac signs who feel the need to overprepare in case of disaster, you're comfortable in most situations, and your dance bag reflects it. You like the basics, nothing else.

Something most people might not know about you, though, is that you get cold easily. We're not sure why, but it's a Pisces staple. That's why if you keep anything in your dance bag, it's the coziest of warm-ups.

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