Chantel Aguirre
A&E

Scotts Valley Native Chantel Aguirre Finds Breakout Success in Dance World

Behind the sleep-deprived scenes of ‘After the Curtain’ with contemporary dance star Chantel Aguirre

Chantel Aguirre, center, performs on stage with the cast of ‘After the Curtain,’ coming to San Jose on March 22. The Scotts Valley native has become one of contemporary dance’s breakout stars. PHOTO BY: LISA KOH

Within the dance community, there’s an unspoken rule that if you want to make plans with a dancer, you better schedule way in advance—they are generally overbooked, overworked and sleep-deprived, but totally happy to be, so as long as they’re dancing.

Scotts Valley native Chantel Aguirre, 27, is one such dancer, which becomes obvious on a call with her from Kitchener, Ontario, where the Shaping Sound contemporary dance company has just arrived for the second performance of After the Curtain. They bussed in that morning at 7 a.m. after opening in Utica, New York the night before, and when asked if any of them got much sleep, Aguirre just laughs.

“Maybe two hours of sleep. We were all so wired and excited for the first show,” she says. “And on the tour bus every night, we watch the show, just so we can fix and tweak and make it better. There were a lot of things we wanted to improve upon.”

So You Think You Can Dance fans will recognize Travis Wall as one of the show’s Emmy award-winning resident choreographers, and Shaping Sound—which he founded in 2012 with Nick Lazzarini, Teddy Forance and Kyle Robinson—is his darling. On the heels of Dance Reimagined, which toured for four years, After the Curtain comes to San Jose on March 22. The show is about a man mourning the death of his beloved, but with an energizing mashup of dance styles and musical genres, and 12 of the best contemporary dancers in the business.

“It’s about Vincent [Wall] creating a show and it’s opening night. You see the interaction with all the characters and dancers backstage. The sets are evolving: backstage dressing rooms, vanities,” says Aguirre. “One of the characters is a split personality of another character, his movements are very creaturesque, dark and athletic. My character, Lily, the main show girl, she’s very jazzy. Teddy Forance’s movement is athletic with jumps and flips—everyone brings their own strengths. Travis heard the songs he was given and designated them to the right artist to project the music into movement.”

Despite barely sleeping while performing a high-intensity show every night, and living on a bus with 12 other people, this is exactly where Aguirre wants to be.

“This is one-hundred percent my dream, to be able to tour with the people who I respect the most out of so many artists, people who I look up to but also consider my family and watch them on stage every night—it’s beyond the best job I’ve ever had.”

It’s that joy for her craft that’s shaped Aguirre into what Wall calls “the most professional dancer I know.”

Growing up, she spent her days at her mom’s dance studio in Felton, the Ballet Repertory Theater. Her mother was her primary teacher for 13 years, before Aguirre started training with Robert Kelley and Diane Cypher, now at Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre. In high school, she’d leave school at 12:30 p.m., drive an hour and a half to start ballet training in San Francisco until 6:30 p.m., and then drive to San Jose for rehearsal for the the Dance Company of San Francisco with Chris Jacobsen and Sonya Tayeh, now best known as an Emmy-nominated choreographer for So You Think You Can Dance.

When Tayeh and Jacobsen moved to Los Angeles, Aguirre relocated to New York City to attend NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts. But paying for school when she was turning down paying dance jobs didn’t feel quite right, so after two years she took a leave of absence from NYU to move to Los Angeles and perform in Tayeh’s first company show.

That’s when she connected with Wall through mutual friend Nick Lazzarini, one of Shaping Sound’s co-creators who Aguirre also danced with under Jacobsen and Tayeh.

Wall invited her to join the cast for the 2010 Academy Awards, and they’ve been a tight team ever since—he’s even going to be a bridesman in her wedding. Since their friendship and creative collaboration took off, Aguirre has performed on Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, the MTV Video Music Awards (VMA) and with Beyonce, Adele, Chris Brown, to name a few.

2010 was a pivotal year for contemporary dance, says Aguirre. It was becoming more commercially and professionally popular, brought to a whole new audience by Florence and the Machine’s VMA performance, which Wall choreographed and Aguirre performed.

“It was a cool moment for the dance world, because as a backup dancer you’re generally doing hip-hop and sexy moves,” says Aguirre. “It was shaping into something different, with a different depth to it.”

When Aguirre isn’t touring, she’s traveling all over the country to teach with Nuvo Dance Convention, but Santa Cruz will always be the place where she became a dancer.

“I think it really made me love it,” says Aguirre. “I’m grateful for the artistic place that I came from, because it was such a nurturing place to fall in love with my art and my craft.”


Info: 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 22. San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 South Almaden Boulevard, San Jose. shapingsoundco.com. $39-$79.

Features Editor at |

Anne-Marie was 9 when she decided she would be a journalist. Many years, countless all-nighters, two majors and one degree later, she started as GT’s Features Editor a day after graduating UCSC.
In her writing she seeks to share local LGBTQ/Queer stories and unpack Santa Cruz’s unique relationship with gender, race, the arts, and armpit hair.
A dedicated pursuant of wokeness and turtleneck evangelist, she finds joy in wall calendars and that fold of skin above the knee.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Are you an earthling? Prove it with logic: *

To Top