The dance life: Choreographer having impact on Harlingen kids

Illiana Cantu

HARLINGEN — She hit the floor running, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.

Illiana Cantu joined the Harlingen school district in January as a consultant at the Gutierrez Middle School of Arts and Sciences.

Fast forward a few months, and she’s now spending long hours preparing young thespians for the upcoming performance of “The Nutcracker” at the Harlingen Performing Arts Conservatory.

“I teach the middle school classes starting at 7:30 a.m. all the way until about noon,” said Illiana, 25, dance instructor at GMS and choreographer at the PAC.

“I have a quick little lunch break,” she said. “I usually just go to Starbucks, grab a coffee and then I work 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Conservatory, and then from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. I’m working on rehearsals and the other choreography I have to do.”

Illiana graduated this year from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley with a bachelor’s of fine arts in dance performance, and she wasted no time getting to work at the thing she loves.

The Edinburg resident leaves home at 6:30 a.m. each day for the hour-long commute to Harlingen. She puts in her 12-hour workdays here, all the while holding down two other jobs.

“I’m a dance instructor at Dance Theater of Edinburg,” she said. “At All-Star Theater in McAllen I am their choreographer, and I work with them every Saturday.”

Her skills are obviously well honed and therefore in good demand, and she exercises the majority of her creative energies in Harlingen.

“Right now it’s all the Nutcracker stuff and between all of that I was doing Legally Blonde, Matilda, the Sweet Science of Bruising,” she said. “It’s definitely a lot of work, a lot of work. But I love the students. I love the kids that I get to work with. They’re all incredible. There’s so much talent over here, and I’m just so amazed by everybody and the opportunities that I’ve been able to receive from here, it’s been great.”

The Nutcracker opens Dec. 10 at the PAC.

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