This above all: to thine own self be true.
Laura Sánchez ’18 was born to be an artist. She knew this as a child when she became a flamenco dancer in her native Cádiz, Spain. Her parents, while generally supportive of their middle child’s endeavors, were concerned she wouldn’t be able to support herself.
So, she made a deal with them. She would pursue a degree in business and marketing if they would let her study dance at the Dance Conservatory in Madrid. Thus began her first beautiful, disciplined steps toward an acclaimed, artistic career. But the road was difficult.
“I cannot even say that being here is a dream because I never even thought this could be real,” Sánchez said Thursday night as the third guest presenter in the 2022-23 Thought Leadership Series at Lesley University.
Sánchez is an award-winning flamenco dancer and choreographer, visual artist, filmmaker and founder of Expressive Flamenco — established after she earned an advanced professional certificate in Expressive Therapies from Lesley in 2018. She facilitates workshops that help participants move through physical and psychic pain and trauma by moving their bodies.
“Dance, dance, dance: move your body because your body has so many messages that are so powerful,” said Sánchez, seemingly light years away from the corporate life that was torturing her soul.
After breaking her foot, literally hobbling her prospects for a career in dance, she took it as a “sign from the universe” that she needed to pursue the life of a businesswoman. Sánchez and her husband to Boston, where he had landed a job. She found work in the banking industry.
She was then a new Spanish immigrant, Although lacking confidence in English skills, she excelled in the financial field. Yet her career felt at odds with her artistic dreams. Plus, she was stuck in a hostile work environment.
“I was bullied by my boss,” Sánchez said. “I didn’t know how she would treat me” one day to the next. Sánchez felt trapped.
However, her passion for flamenco never abated. She began teaching dance classes in Porter Square, and got connected with a Lesley faculty member, who nudged her to take classes in our Graduate School of Arts and Social Sciences.
“Maybe I can reinvent myself. Maybe I can finally pursue the arts,” said Sánchez, describing her inner dialogue. Still, she needed a steady income and allowed herself to take only one class: Assistant Professor Nancy Jo Cardillo and adjunct faculty member Julie Leavitt’s Introduction to Dance/Movement Therapy.
Sánchez was aflame with the possibilities, and began taking classes toward her certificate, but she worried that she lacked the English vocabulary to handle the challenges of an American graduate program.
What’s more, Spain’s higher education system is more test-based.
“I had never written a paper. Nunca!” Sánchez said. But a meeting with former Expressive Therapies Associate Professor Angelica Pinna-Perez, a fellow Spanish speaker, convinced Sánchez that she could do her end-of-class project in her native tongue.
Sánchez still had challenges to overcome — the stresses of motherhood; a serious health crisis that affected her daughter and the financial struggle of being a full-time student.
She earned her certificate in 2018, launched Expressive Flamenco, successfully raised money for multi-modal art installations, began presenting at professional conferences and boot-strapped an award-winning short film, “After Dark.”
The film, which she screened at Thursday night’s gathering, combines flamenco with poetry, visual art, drama and creative expression to create awareness about discrimination and mental health during Covid-19.
“I am an autobiographical artist,” Sánchez said, “… but the themes are universal.”
During an audience Q&A moderated by Associate Professor Nancy Beardall, who teaches Dance/Movement Therapy in our Graduate School of Arts and Social Scienes, Sánchez urged audience members and budding artist to keep their own counsel when it comes to charting the course of their lives.
“Listen to yourself. Allow yourself to find space to just be with yourself,” Sánchez said, adding that she knows she’s moving in the right direction “when I do something that makes me feel joy.
“Listen to that, whatever it is.”