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Meet Sandra Portal-Andreu, Performance Artist in Little Havana

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sandra Portal-Andreu.

Sandra, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I was born in Hialeah, “La Ciudad Que Progresa”. My mother is from Medellin, Colombia and my father is from La Habana, Cuba. My family is full of big thinkers and risk takers. My father, a computer engineer, worked on the P.C. at the time of its inception and has co-created 9 tech patents in payment systems and customer loyalty. My mother is a hustler: working independently while raising two children and putting herself through school. She now co-owns a pre-school that just celebrated its 20th year. My parents are my biggest influences and the people I look up to most. They rarely sugar-coated things and made sure that no matter how lofty my goals, I had to always keep one foot firmly planted on the ground.

My artistic journey began in 1986 at Mirochnik Ballet Institute in Hialeah, FL. It was owned and managed by my first dance teacher, Madelyn Alfonso. At around 17, I went on to train with Vladimir Issaev at the Aventura Dance Academy. I joined his company, Arts Ballet Theater of South Florida, danced as a member of the company for 2 seasons and was then accepted into the Dance Department at the New World School of the Arts.

While at New World, I was introduced to Modern dance and that changed my vision dramatically as to what I could or wanted to do. Before that point, I only considered dancing for Ballet companies. I realized there were significantly more avenues to pursue. During this time, I was working on the side acting for commercials and dancing for Modern companies. All the while, I just wanted to leave Miami to gain some independence and explore my creative opportunities. After two years, I graduated with my Associates in Arts and transferred to the Dance Department at Florida State University. FSU is where I began to toy with choreography. I felt more comfortable exploring movement and ideas and presented two pieces there with very positive feedback. I also expanded my skill set in Theater by taking electives in Acting. I feel that the combination of New World exposing me to various styles of dance and FSU providing the nurturing foundation to explore my vocabulary, I was fully supported and prepared to further my career.

After FSU, I danced and acted locally. I went back and forth from Miami to NY, auditioning and such. But ended up staying in Miami because my father said, “If you want to dance, you can do it anywhere… why not dance here?” Three months later, I was given an adjunct position in the Theater Division at New World and began teaching dance and working with Actors. That opportunity opened more doors. I went on to teach at Miami City Ballet’s School while obtaining my Masters in Science from Barry University. I performed with Josée Garant Dance, the Florida Grand Opera, Juggerknot Theater Company, and choreographed for CityTheatre Miami, just to name a few. And last month, I presented a concert of my work entitled, “You, Me, Us, We”, to kickoff Sarasota Contemporary Dance’s Summer Intensive. This December, I will be presenting a new Site-Specific commission through Pioneer Winter Collective’s Grass Stains 2018 at the Hialeah Park Studios. I am beyond excited about this new work as I hope to activate the space and bring the community to this beautiful hidden gem!

After 20 years in the community, I feel that I have grown as an artist and that Miami has really nurtured my talent. Each encounter has paved the way for other projects, experiences, and opportunities. I happily juggle between teaching, freelancing as a Performer/Choreographer, and managing an arts education program, ProjectArt Miami. However, before all of that, I am a mom and the fact that my boys get exposed to this world is by far the biggest reward. I hope they are just as inspired to live their truth as I have been.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
HA! I would be remiss to say that my journey was linear when it was literally and quite fittingly full of multiple twists and turns. Thankfully, I had the support of my friends, family, and mentors to see me along the way. The biggest obstacle for me working in this community was to present my own work. As a dancer, I rarely had issues picking up projects, thankfully. But as a choreographer, I had to start from the very bottom and work my way up. From performing solos to setting work on schools and college programs to working with Theater and Dance companies, I had too little by little set a piece here and there to be able to build a library of work that would then be applicable for submissions to grants and commissions.

And don’t get me started on videos! You could set a great work but if the video quality was bad, you’re pretty much screwed. Dance-making is a fun job. There’s nothing like being in the studio and working with your collaborators on building an idea and making it come to life. But it’s extremely hard. Not enough money, Not enough time. So you make it work for you and everyone. That’s why it’s so important to get a good quality documentation. It royally sucks when you go through all this work and find that the lighting was off or the camera was moving or the image was blurry. A solid video is like Gold in the dance world because that is what is ultimately seen and what gets you more opportunities to present.

Also, getting used to rejection is… necessary. I can’t tell you how many times I got letters of rejection. It comes with the territory but it also gives you a chance to re-evaluate your ideas. I guess the biggest advice I would have for current and potential artmakers is keep plugging in! You may get 10 “NO’S” but when you get that “YES”, it the best feeling. I have a dear friend, Visual Artist, Stephanie Jaffe Werner aka my “Fairy Artmother”, gave me a piece of advice that I carry with me. She said, “Do a little every day for your Art”. If it’s writing an idea, researching, updating your website, finding submissions, editing film, music, etc. Artmakers need to give their craft a little love every day. Doesn’t matter how big or how small, it all counts!

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Other than being an Educator and Advocate for the Arts, I am a freelance Performance Artist and Choreographer. Within the last 7 years, I have presented my work in and outside of Miami. I have received support from various entities including the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs, Miami Light Project, the Miami-Dade Public Library System, Sarasota Contemporary Dance Company, PBS, and most recently, Pioneer Winter Collective’s Grass Stains 2018.

I think what sets my work apart is that I gravitate toward social issues and personal experience as sources of inspiration. Also, I write dialogue in a lot of my work and love to blend movement and speech together. Other than dance and text, I also like working with original sound composition and video art. My work has shifted more and more into the Multi-disciplinary world rather than traditional dance. However, I try not to sway too much as I love to make my performers move!

One of my main goals is to make work that is inclusive and accessible. I try to develop concepts that connect with my audience at a personal level. If not, I’d rather not make anything at all. Through lots of conversations with non-artists, I found that the community really wants to engage in the art world but at times, finds themselves lost in esoteric presentations. The key is trying to find the happy medium. Not dumbing art down but not losing your invested audience, either. It’s a constant question that I pose during my process.

What were you like growing up?
I was/am an oddball. A bit of an eccentric, quick-thinker, always on the go, and a comedian (or so I am told), I would get bored quickly and often would end up dancing in my room for hours. I went to Catholic School practically all my life and always felt a little out of place. I found that at times I just didn’t fit in because I was either too weird or too “loca”. I ran track and played basketball in Junior high. In High School, I was on the swim team, the Drama club, and SGA. I wanted to diversify my experiences and see what else there was out there besides just dance.

I grew up with strong Female influences from both sides of my family. My Cuban Abuela came to the Miami through the Freedom Flights in 1968. She worked and raised my father, her special needs daughter, and was widowed before the age of 50. She often would call me her “Artista Famosa” and taught me how to swim, cook, clean, drive, and even gave me my first job. She was always encouraging but also, made sure I was grounded and aware. My Colombian Abuela is the comic, the artist, and the constant learner. She was always making something, sewing clothes, or drawing. She works well with her hands and enjoyed playing Nintendo! She is the constant observer who found humor in all things. And above all, she was endlessly devoted to my Abuelito, I think these two figures have shaped me in many ways and have made me question what it is to be a Female in a Patriarchal society. The grit and protective nature of my Cuban Abuela and the endless curiosity and creative spirit of my Colombian Mamita are central pillars of my personality.

I like to think that if you ask people who I am that maybe they might say that I am honest, kind, open, funny, reliable, and resilient. I believe in the power of community and if I say that I will be there or do something then you can count on me. I can’t stand corn flakes, don’t have time for closed-minds, and will never tolerate bigotry. Treat people with kindness but be firm in your expectations.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Main Headshot was taken by: Cristina Isabel Rivera Sangam, Imaged on Stage by: Sorcha Augustine, Recent headshot taken by: Cristina Isabel Rivera Sangama, Images of the bay and library by: Claudio Marcotulli

Getting in touch: VoyageMIA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

1 Comment

  1. Barbara Homsi

    August 18, 2018 at 10:22 pm

    Awesome , beautiful writeup Sandra 😍
    Amazing talent so inspired just reading your family attributes in forming your abilities & accomplishments & your never ending drive to succeed.
    So an honor to know you & your beautiful family 😍
    Break a leg Chica 😂

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